Keeping Readiness from "Going Up In Smoke"

Story Number: NNS191008-04Release Date: 10/8/2019 1:36:00 PM
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By Douglas H Stutz , Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs

BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- There’s vexation over vaping and exasperation over electronic-cigarettes (e-cigs) as Navy Medicine continues to keep operational readiness from going up in smoke.

Defense Health Agency (DHA) officials from all branches of the service are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and have issued a patient safety advisory on the dangers of such products.

According to Patrick W. Graves, Naval Hospital Bremerton tobacco cessation facilitator, vaping and e-cig use has been linked to hundreds – and counting - cases of severe lung disease, including multiple fatalities.

“What’s different now is that Sailors are openly asking questions on vaping and e-cigs, especially with the recent deaths and illnesses associated with them,” said Graves, acknowledging that there’s an existing and unfounded perception that vaping and e-cigs can be considered healthier options than using actual cigarette products.

Graves attests that with this recent outbreak of lung disease, if anyone is experiencing such symptoms as cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, fatigue, fever or abdominal pain, to see their healthcare provider.

“Vaping and e-cigarettes were invented to provide a safe alternative to cigarettes. They are safer, but still not safe,” explained Graves. 

There is a slight difference between vapes and e-cigs. E-cigs are disposable or use disposable cartridges whereas vapes are refillable with a solution of the user’s choice. Those cartridges and vaping solution contain nicotine and other cancer-causing chemicals.

“Nicotine degrades performance, health and readiness,” stated Graves, specifically noting that using any nicotine product negatively impacts a person’s endurance, stamina, night vision, healing, fine motor coordination, stress management and hydration ability.

There’s even more to consider besides potential lung disease with using vaping and e-cigs, or how other tobacco products impact individual and operational readiness.

Nicotine products all hit below the belt.

American Heart Association research has indicated that smoking may be a major cause of erectile dysfunction. The study showed that tobacco usage can impact a man’s ability to get an erection.

Its common knowledge that nicotine use causes arteries to harden, can compress veins and capillaries, restricts the flow of blood and is a major contributing factor in heart disease. It’s those same factors link with all tobacco products that also lessen penile blood flow and contribute significantly to erectile dysfunction in men. 

“The erectile dysfunction issue is not exploited enough. Besides a few others contributing factors such as physical trauma effecting nervous system or brain function, cigarettes are the number one contributor to erectile dysfunction in otherwise healthy males. If enough guys heard that message, it'd change attitudes,” commented Graves.

There are also smoldering safety issues to consider with using e-cigs. There has been explosions and small fires attributed to them, either due to some type of battery malfunction, overheating or detonation.

The USS Nimitz (CVN 68) had several instances a few years ago where Sailors assigned to the nuclear aircraft carrier were injured by faulty e-cigs. One crew member sustained significant burns when an e-cig vaporizer device caught fire in his uniform’s pant-leg pocket. Another Sailor’s vehicle sustained damage when an ‘e-cig’ ignited and torched his car’s interior.

Good luck explaining that to the insurance company.

Correspondence from Commander, Naval Sea Service System Command to Commander, Naval Safety Center noted that “based on known dangers, these lithium-battery powered devices are not authorized for use, transport or storage on Navy facilities, submarines, ships, vessels and aircraft.”

Compiled statistical evidence from the Naval Safety Center showed that there were 12 safety incidents during an eight-month period several years ago associated with the use of electronic cigarettes, vaporizers, vape pens and similar equipment containing lithium-ion batteries that have caused fire and/or explosions with Navy or Marine Corps personnel.

Seven of those incidents happened on a naval vessel, with two causing a fire that needed shipboard firefighting equipment to extinguish the flames. Eight of the dozen reported incidents happened when the e-cigarette batteries were being kept in the service member’s clothing pockets. Accidental shorting or discharge resulted in first or second degree burns.

Additionally, four of the mishaps happened when the device was being used. Two were battery explosions when the e-cig was actually in the service member’s mouth causing facial and dental injuries.

Graves has been active for the past 11 years working exclusively to help patients quit their dependence, maintain personal readiness which contributes to their command’s overall readiness, and keep nicotine away from his patients’ lungs, legs and loins.

NHB’s Tobacco Cessation program - the longest running and most successful in the Navy - has been managed clinically by Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program counselors since 1998 when it was recognized that nicotine dependence was similar to alcohol or any other substance and it needed to be treated as such.

“The fact that nicotine products are legal and directly attributable to over 450,000 deaths is amazing. It’s a threat to public health and it can degrade individual readiness. Vaping and e-cigs are not safe. Nothing but air should be inhaled into anyone’s lungs,” said Graves.

Over one thousand people do stop smoking every day.

That's because they've all taken their last breath.

Vaping and e-cigs are adding to that number.

But not if Navy Medicine – and the rest of DHA – can help prevent.


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