Vaping addict’s lung collapse twice after five-year habit

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A self-confessed “vaping addict” has called for them to be banned after her right lung collapsed twice and is now permanently scarred.

Karlee Ozkurt, 20, from the US, has been vaping for five years – after peer pressure at high school convinced her to start.

She claims it’s the “worst decision” she ever made and her life’s biggest regret.

Her lung collapsed while she was in the bathroom at work in November 2021 and she waited two days to go to hospital, thinking she was having a muscle spasm in her back.

She needed her lung re-expanded with a needle and syringe the first time around – but after it collapsed again in November 2022, she had an operation to attach it to the chest wall.

After suffering two collapses, Karlee is at a greater risk of it happening a third time – and she’s now quit vaping for good after four attempts in two years.

Karlee wants more people to recognise vaping as an addiction – with real withdrawal symptoms, including uncontrollable, full-body shakes and extreme irritability.

She quit a number of times after her second collapse – but is “finally” on track to finish her first full month vape-free.

While research is still in its early stages – Karlee is fearful of the long-term health effects six years of vaping has given her.

Karlee, a medical assistant, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, US, said: “You never think this type of thing will happen to you – but it happened to me. It felt like my lung was on fire.”

“I fell into the trap of thinking vaping was cool – but it’s stupid. I didn’t realise until it was too late,” she continued.

“And the worrying thing is, I still don’t know whether I’ve done irreparable damage because we’re unaware of the long-term effects.

“I could die at 40 or 50 – and all because of a five-year habit I was peer-pressured into.”

Karlee started vaping when she was in high school – after she noticed her friends in the year above doing it.

She thought it looked cool and would be less harmful than cigarettes, but for the first month, she had to “force” herself to enjoy it after her lungs began to hurt.

“My older friends bought me my first vape,” she said.

“It was extremely painful to try and inhale it.

“I should’ve known from the start it wasn’t a good thing.

“But I wanted to seem like a badass while doing it. I was 15, naive and impressionable.”

Over time, Karlee became used to the feeling of inhaling and she says she became addicted to the “nicotine buzz” she’d experience – particularly if she was anxious or stressed.

But when the “buzz” faded, she started using it even more – going through an elf bar per day to chase the feeling.

Three years into her “addiction”, Karlee’s right lung collapsed while she was in the toilets at work.

She said: “I was at work, cleaning the bathrooms – we didn’t have any customers so I went to the toilet to vape.

“My manager walked in on me and we both just burst out laughing.

“I suddenly felt like I’d just pulled a muscle in my back. About an hour later, I started wheezing.

“I was sent home from work – but I didn’t think it was serious enough to go to the emergency room.

“But after a sleepless night, I still had the same pain and I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was dying.

“I went to the walk-in clinic and told them my symptoms – chest pain, shortness of breath and back pain. They sent me to the emergency room straight away.”

On November 16, 2021, a chest x-ray revealed Karlee’s right lung had collapsed by 50 per cent.

As it was the first time, doctors manually re-inflated it via a syringe – but they warned her to quit vaping if she didn’t want it to happen again.

But after three months of trying, Karlee began vaping regularly again – and a year later, she experienced further health issues.

She said: “They said my lung collapse was spontaneous – but vaping definitely didn’t help.

“In November 2022, my lung collapsed again after months with a severe chest cold.

“Your chance of recurrence increases every time it happens – so this time I needed surgery to fuse my lung to my chest wall.

“After a CT scan and operating on my lung, my doctor noticed some real scarring on the bottom of it and all along it.

“When I was conscious, I asked him what might have caused it – and he said undoubtedly it was from vaping.”

After a year and four months of “an on-again, off-again habit,” Karlee put down the vape for good two weeks ago on February 28 and hopes never to do it again.

She’s currently on 1mg of Chantix – a pill which gets in the way of nicotine in the brain to stop smokers enjoying it so much – to help her quit.

She added: “You don’t need vaping to live – it’s just a habit to break.

“It takes three, four weeks to break a habit – I don’t want it to be the rest of my life.

“I’ve got friends a year or two younger than me – I want to say to them, don’t even start.

“It’s not cool – just plain stupid.”

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