BISMARCK, N.D. - Vaping has been in the news a lot recently. Nationwide, at least five people have died from vaping-related illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control has reported about 450 possible cases of severe respiratory diseases that are potentially linked to vaping. Those cases have been reported in 33 states, including one right here in North Dakota. Last week the state Health Department reported its first case of severe respiratory disease connected to vaping.
In an exclusive interview, that young woman shared with us how she went from smoking cigarettes to vaping, to nearly dying. Her reason for sharing? Eighteen-year-old Hailey Weigel of Bismarck says she hopes her story can save someone else’s life.
Weigel is breathing a little easier these days. But she’s always got this inhaler close by, just in case she needs it. The inhaler has replaced the vape device she used to never leave home without. Hailey recently spent three days in the hospital; she and her parents say it was her vaping habit that put her there.
“They found fluid in my lungs and it was really painful. I had chest and back pain. They said the pain was equivalent of that of a heart attack,” said Weigel.
Weigel started vaping nearly two years ago. Back then, she thought it was a safer choice than cigarettes.
“I got hooked on cigarettes when I was 15 or 16. I wanted to quit those because I didn’t like the smell or the taste,” she explained. “Vapes are fruity and they smell good and they don’t leave a smell on your clothes. Everything about them seemed better than cigarettes.”
Health experts say that’s part of the problem with vaping; it’s been marketed as a healthy alternative, and a way to stop smoking.
“Some of the early marketing states these products just produce harmless water vapor. There is nothing further from the truth from that,” said Neil Charvat, Tobacco Prevention and Control program director. “It’s not water, it’s glycerin, oily liquids, flavoring that is safe to ingest but we have no idea what that does when it’s inhaled. That’s the concern.”
“I can say that with 100% confidence. They are not safer,” said Weigel.
Weigel hopes others can learn from her experience. She wants to share her story with as many people as she can. Her mom’s Facebook post about Hailey has been shared more than 2,000 times. And she has already been asked to speak at several schools across the state.
“I want to explain to them that it doesn’t make you cool,” said Weigel. “If even one kid would listen to me and decide they didn’t want to go through this that would be great. I don’t care if it’s one kid or 20 kids. I just want to help as much as I can.”
The state Tobacco Prevention and Control Program treats vaping products the same as tobacco products, and provides help for people who want to quit vaping. Contact NDQuits at 800-QUIT-NOW or online at ndhealth.gov/ndquits.