What's 'dripping'? The I-Team Investigates

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It's not illegal. It's just a different way of vaping. Still confused? Think e-cigarettes on steroids.

You can be forgiven if you've never heard of it. If you took a poll of people in our newsroom, you'd probably be among the majority. But "dripping" isn't code and it's not illegal. It's just a different way of vaping. Still confused? Think e-cigarettes on steroids.

But where health experts say e-cigarettes carry certain risks, they say dripping can make it worse. That's particularly true for kids and the scientists say kids are among those using that method of vaping.

Dr. Brian King, a health director at the Centers for Disease Control, points to a 2015 study in Connecticut which showed that of kids who had tried e-cigarettes, a quarter had tried dripping. Put that together with King's other number, that 11 percent of kids nationally have tried e-cigarettes, run the numbers, and you'll find that in Wake County High Schools alone, that would mean more than 4,000 students might have tried it.


"We know that youth use of e-cigarettes in any form is unsafe but when youth use these products for dripping, there's potential to create even more harmful levels of different ingredients, particularly volatile aldehydes, which is formaldehyde and acrolein," said King. The reason why has to do with what dripping entails. "They're essentially bypassing the traditional operation of the product. They put the liquid directly on the heating coil and that creates very high levels of temperatures and voltage which can create higher levels in harmful ingredients which we know are very dangerous, particularly to inhale."

Dr. King summed up his take on it this way, "The bottom line from a public health standpoint is that you should not use these products, particularly modifying these products and using this dripping method."

Ask people who drip, however - young or old - if they care about those risks, and you're likely to get a resounding no. By and large, they're ex-smokers and dripping helped them kick the habit.

"This is an adult product sold in an adult environment. There's no way that kids should have access to any of these products, whether it's dripping or a normal e-cigarette," said Sherwin Mena, President of the NC Vaping Council. Mena says vape shops take their responsibility to not sell to kids under 18 very seriously. He also points to a study from the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom suggesting vaping is more than 95% less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

In the Raleigh-based Good Guy Vapes, long term health consequences couldn't have been farther from the minds of 19-year-olds Storm Pavelski and Richie Hill. The two make the trek to the vape shop near NC State from their homes in Louisburg just to buy drippers.

"People prefer drippers because you're going to get a lot better flavor when you do it," explained Pavelski. They said they couldn't get the equipment they needed in vape shops closer to home. Pavelski, inhaling from a large device that produced enormous amounts of smoke - or, technically, vapor - said, "Cigarettes are nasty. They don't taste good. With this you're getting good flavor."

Both teens credited vaping for helping them kick cigarette habits. That's something a lot of people who smoke e-cigarettes have in common. "I've completely stopped," said Hill. "I've never wanted to pick up another pack of cigarettes. My dad smokes and I'm like, after vaping, I don't even know how you do it anymore."

Vape shop owners say they've noticed dripping on the decline over the past couple years largely because vaping equipment has gotten so much better. "The technology has changed so much that you get the same effects from the flavor and the vapor production from newly designed products," Sherwin Mena said. "The industry has advanced incredibly."

Mena says dripping now belongs to the hobbyists; people willing to put in the work. And it does take work. Products on the market today give basically the same experience with almost none of the hassle. But at the CDC, Dr. Brian King said they'll continue studying the effects of dripping and e-cigarettes in general.

"At the current point," he said, "it's actually quite common and we need to collect data to monitor this behavior." In the interim we know we need to act to prevent youth from using these products in any manner and that includes dripping."

King says that starts with conversations at home. "It ultimately comes down to ensuring both parents and youth are educated, not only about what these products are but also what the potential harms are to youth. So the bottom lines when we talk to parents is, 'Engage early and often to your kids about these products; and, in particular, take about the harms of using them in general but also modifying them and using practices such as dripping that can increase the health risk to them, both in the short and long term."

King suggested keeping the message simple and clear: "E-cigarette use is unsafe for your health." Many brands of e-cigarettes do contain nicotine and King urged parents to talk to their kids about how nicotine is addictive and can harm a developing brain. His take on what a parent might say to a child about it: "It's critical that you not use these products and it's particularly important that you not modify them and use methods such as dripping, because that can create even higher levels of harmful ingredients that can impact you for the rest of your life."

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