Addictions to electronic cigarettes are derailing the dreams of promising young athletes, leaving them struggling to breathe, keep up with their teammates and find motivation to practice.
Take Cade Beauparlant, 18, of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Beauparlant first laced up hockey skates when he was just a few years old, and fell in love with the sport. “Hockey was my life,” he told NBC News.
His abilities on the ice developed rapidly. Hockey coaches and recruiters had their eyes on Beauparlant starting in middle school.
“He was such a hard-working, motivated, skillful young kid. He was our best defenseman,” Paul Yameen, Beauparlant’s high school hockey coach, said. “As soon as he started [vaping], everything changed.”
Beauparlant said he was introduced to e-cigarettes during a sleepover with friends in eighth grade. He began “Juuling” in ninth grade, referring to the Juul brand of e-cigarettes, by far the most popular among teens.
Within a year, Beauparlant said he was “extremely addicted,” to Juul pods. One pod has roughly the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, according to Truth Initiative, a nonprofit organization that advocates for tobacco cessation.
I couldn’t pull enough air into my lungs.
Beauparlant’s addiction was evident on the ice.
“I couldn’t stay on the ice for more than a minute and a half before being gassed,” Beauparlant said. “My lungs couldn’t handle it. I felt like I couldn’t pull enough air into my lungs.”
Left in the dark about Beauparlant’s vaping, his family and doctor assumed the problem was exercise-induced asthma. They were wrong.
But then Beauparlant was caught vaping in school. As punishment, he was stripped of his role as captain of the school hockey team and had to sit out a quarter of the season his senior year. A shoulder injury also contributed to time away from the ice.
The result? Missed opportunities to advance in the sport.
“He was being recruited. One of the coaches was coming to watch him for a prep school,” Kristin Beauparlant, his mother, recalled. “Hard to do when you’re not playing.”
“It’s a sad, unfortunate story,” Yameen lamented. “There’s no doubt in my mind that kid had the ability to play college hockey. No question. And that’s not gonna happen.”
Vaping and athletic performance
The popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers has skyrocketed in recent years. In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 78 percent increase in high school students vaping from 2017 to 2018. Youth e-cigarette use has been called an epidemic by major public health officials, including the U.S. surgeon general.
And it’s increasingly evident that vaping is affecting young athletes and youth athletic programs nationwide.
“You assume people who are athletes care about their bodies and their performance,” said Nina McPherson, a high school swim coach in Waxhaw, North Carolina.
McPherson said that over the past few years, a growing number of her swimmers were unable to practice or perform in meets because they were too sick. “I found there seemed to be a relationship between vaping and respiratory types of illnesses,” McPherson said.