Action News Jax Investigates: E-cigarette hacking creating possible health risk

The government says e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among teens and young adults, but a new form of “extreme vaping” could possibly put their health at risk.

It’s called dripping.

“A couple years ago I was a two-and-a-half pack a day smoker and now I do this,” Raphael Deguzman said.

This isn’t just a lot of hot air for people like Deguzman, who compete in competitions called “cloud chasing.”

Recently, dozens of drippers competed against each other at an event in Jacksonville.

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“This is unregulated device. If you don’t build it correctly, it can be dangerous,”  vaping advocate Brian Roy said. He said there are all sorts of ways to vape; some are legit, others not so much.

So how is it done? Dripping involves pouring e-juice directly on an e-cigarette heating coil, which can be customized to produce a bigger, thicker cloud of vapor.

“I'm not surprised teenagers found a way to inappropriately use this device,” said Dr. Emily Jaynes Winograd with the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center - Jacksonville. She said more research is necessary to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping. According to a new Yale University study, as many as 25 percent  of U.S. kids who are using e-cigarettes may be “dripping.”

“In more severe cases of nicotine toxicity, you can have significant decrease of blood pressure and heart rate as well as possibility of seizure, respiratory failure, which could be fatal,” Winograd said.

Critics also said some new data even suggests that e-cigarettes without nicotine contain cancer-causing substances like formaldehyde. And e-cigarette makers appear to be targeting kids in their marketing by choosing enticing names for flavors like “very cherry” and “killa vanilla.”

“People like sweet things. There are some companies out there doing things the wrong way,” said vapor store owner Sean Howard. He sells authorized e-cigarettes and says there are e-cigs with large liquid tanks that can actually produce a more intense hit than dripping.

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“They all have warning labels. It’s a new industry; we are doing the best we can,” Howard said.

As for Deguzman, he said he isn’t worried about any health consequences.

"I feel although I’m putting something foreign in my body, I do that with food, so I’m not too worried about it,” Deguzman said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said e-cigarette use among high school students fell 5 percent in 2016. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced its intention to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, but hasn’t yet rolled out its new rules.