Vape products, also known as e-cigarettes, have become popular over the last few years, especially among teens. Thought of as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, vape/e-cigarettes contain large amounts of nicotine and have been linked to serious lung diseases and even death, according to Gabrielle Diaz of the Stratford Health Department.

“It is important to educate both parents and teens about the dangers and harmful effects of these products,” Diaz said.

The health departments of Stratford, Trumbull and Fairfield will host a community vaping forum Oct. 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at St. Vincent’s Medical Center. The event, co-sponsored by TPAUD — Trumbull’s Prevention Program and the Stratford Partnership for Youth and Families, will include speakers from the American Lung Association and Yale University, amd Fairfield State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey.

“The key message is to educate parents about how much we don’t know about the dangers,” said TPAUD Project Director Melissa McGarry. “The real issue is that there have been no long-term studies into the effects of vaping.”

In addition, though companies say that the ingredients in their products are approved for human consumption, McGarry said, there is a difference between eating and inhaling the ingredients in a vape, and in the water vapor itself. Though water is perfectly safe to consume, it isn’t safe to inhale, she said.

“That’s called drowning,” she said.

In TPAUD’s annual survey of teen substance use, McGarry said, vaping is the only substance that is increasing in popularity, she said. Some recent actions, like a proposed ban on sweet vape flavors and Connecticut’s adoption of a 21-year-old purchasing age, are steps in the right direction, she said.

“With the age limit being 18, there was a segment of the high school population that could buy and resell them,” she said. “The day my daughter turned 18, she started getting texts from people asking her to buy vapes for them.”

But McGarry said more could be done, including limits on the advertising of vaping products. Cigarette advertisements were banned from television in 1970, but vaping ads abound on television today, she said.

“Kids are inundated with the advertising,” she said. “It’s on TV, on the radio. Parents may not realize it because the ads aren’t on the programs they watch or listen to, and that’s not an accident.”

According to the state Department of Health, there have been at least five cases of illness in the state linked to the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping. All five patients became ill in July and August and have now been discharged from the hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that more than 200 cases of severe lung disease associated with e-cigarette use are under investigation in 25 states.

Patients experienced symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Many patients were hospitalized and required intensive medical treatment. All patients reported using e-cigarette or vapor products and many patients reported using products that contain cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The investigation has not yet identified any single substance or product that is linked to all cases.

The community vaping forum is free, but registration is recommended. To register, go to www.communityvapingforum.eventbrite.com. For more information about the outbreak investigation, visit www.cdc.gov.