A resident at the University of Minnesota Medical School went viral after taking her message against the dangers of vaping to young adults on TikTok, a social media platform.
Rose Marie Leslie, a family physician resident at the University, has more than 200,000 followers and has accumulated 2.4 million likes on the platform for her short, occasionally stern and often light-hearted educational videos bringing awareness to important health topics. She recently became internet famous for her explanation of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.
Leslie said she found TikTok to be a unique social media platform that seemed “silly and creative” — something she hadn’t seen on social media lately. With her history in health education, she thought it would be a unique and refreshing way to share health tips, facts and recommendations about general medical information. This led her to address the current outbreak in acute lung illness caused by vaping.
“There is this illness that is really scary that is affecting a lot of people throughout the nation right now, and there are some cases here in Minnesota. It is not something to be taken lightly,” Leslie said.
David Ingbar, a University professor of medicine and former president of the American Thoracic Society, has seen several patients in their 20s and 30s who complained about having shortness of breath due to vaping-related illnesses. In the short run, he said the dangers of acute lung injury can be triggered by several factors, including yet-to-be-identified ingredients in vape cartridges. These dangers range in severity and can include death from respiratory failure.
“There is clearly a risk. I mean, we have seen it. We have seen people die from this, so it is clearly not safe,” Ingbar said. “Because we don’t know the specific components that trigger the lung injury, you sort of have to be an idiot to think it’s safe to vape at this point.”
Both Leslie and Ingbar said the most difficult thing about treating e-cigarette use and vaping is that, because they haven’t been around for very long, it’s difficult to study their long-term effect on the lungs.
“Smoking typical cigarettes has been around for years and we know how high the association is between cigarette use and lung cancer, and we just don’t know all of that quite yet [about vaping],” Leslie said. “We do know that there has been an increased rate in tobacco use overall, which has caused an increase in tobacco use in younger generations.”
Ingbar said because there is nicotine in e-cigarettes, they continue to create and maintain nicotine addiction just like cigarettes do. The idea that it is safer to get a nicotine fix by vaping rather than smoking cigarettes has led many young adults to make the switch.
First-year student Hazel Kraus started vaping almost two years ago after developing a nicotine addiction from smoking cigarettes at a young age.
“I found out that I had a gum disease and had to stop smoking cigarettes or my teeth would fall out,” Kraus said. “So I stopped using cigarettes, bought my own vape and have been since reducing my nicotine percentage.”
Kraus is one of the many college students across the nation who have been impacted by Leslie’s TikTok videos. While Leslie has received positive feedback from young adults who are actively trying to stop vaping, she said many people who work in the vape industry have reached out to her concerned about her videos’ messages on vaping-related illness.
“Whenever you are talking about or shining a negative light on something that is thought to be a cool thing among teens and young adults, people are going to criticize you,” Leslie said. “It is something that I have experience with, and as long as there are risks still out there and people are still seeing benefits from my videos, I am going to keep making them.”