Rosey Christofferson had always had a love of football. She was a regular goal scorer on her team and trained regularly with her local club. However, in her final season, she noticed her fitness level rapidly declining.
She told her trainer she was too exhausted to play a full game and would have to come off at half-time, complaining of chest pain.
On Valentine’s Day in 2015, just a few days shy of her 19th birthday, she unexpectedly collapsed in the street. People passing by noticed Rosey and immediately called an ambulance and Rosie’s mum, Rachel Howe, through Rosie’s phone.
The 18-year-old was rushed to the hospital immediately. Both of her lungs had spontaneously collapsed, a condition known as bilateral pneumothorax. When she arrived at the hospital, she was brain dead.
Rosie’s family was forced to say goodbye to their daughter – a “ball of energy and fun” – as Rachel described her. In addition to footy, Rosey loved drama and swimming.
One week after she collapsed, her life support was turned off.
I told her to swim, because she loves swimming. She was a little fish. And I asked them to open the window, and these shafts of sunlight came through and shone right on her,” Rachel recalled to The Guardian.
As Rosey’s family struggled with the grief of losing their daughter, they were also left with one persistent question – how did a healthy teenager suddenly collapse and die?
Rachel thinks she knows the answer – vaping. She shares a very important message to other parents of teens about this potentially deadly habit.
‘She was on it all the time’
Rosey was an occasional smoker, starting from the age of 16. However, in September 2014, six months before her death, she swapped over to e-cigerettes or flavoured vapes.
She soon found it a compulsive habit and was vaping often.
All of her friends were vaping. I hated it because she was on it all the time. I believe she became more addicted to vaping than she was ever addicted to cigarettes.
She would go into the local shop and buy these vaping liquids but you would never see the same bottle twice.
There would be coconut, cherry, bubblegum vapes. It was constantly in her mouth.”
It was after she started to vape that she began having chest pains. She visited a GP who told her the pain was most likely a pulled muscle. She then started to experience chronic fatigue. Rachel thought that the constant vaping may have something to do with it but never suspected it could kill her.
However, after her daughter’s death, the heartbroken mum asked the doctor if the two could be linked. This was back in 2015. At that time, a doctor told Rachel. “We don’t know what we are dealing with, with e-cigarettes. We’ll know in 10 years time the damage we are doing.”
Since then there have been several studies linking vaping to serious complications in the lungs.
‘That’s what killed my daughter’
In Australia, vapes are fairly easy to come by and this is the same in other countries. I know several students at my 12-year-old son’s school who have been caught with vapes and I’ve been told this is what it’s like in most high schools now.
Kids vaping in bathrooms. Kids selling vapes behind lockers. Kids using their bus money to buy vapes.
Vapes are promoted as a “better” alternative for smokers but are they really? Especially in teens who never smoked in the first place?
Professor Andrew Bush, a consultant paediatric chest physician at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals and director of Imperial College London’s Centre for Paediatrics and Child Health, said he was extremely concerned about the potential adverse health effects of e-cigarettes, and there were cases of acute lung injury associated with their use from around the world.
The legislators should be taking this seriously and treating e-cigarettes like tobacco in terms of the advertising and plain packaging,” Bush said.
There have been thousands of injuries associated with vaping, in Australia and overseas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies have reported 2,602 lung injury cases that required hospitalisation and 59 deaths linked to vaping and this was just in 2020.
Australian mum Natasha Stephenson spoke out earlier this year after her 15-year-old daughter was admitted to the hospital. The 15-year-old was diagnosed with hypoxia within hours and had to be partially ventilated. Her condition has been linked to nicotine vapes. Even after several months, she continues to have ongoing respiratory difficulties.
As for Rachel, nearly seven years after losing her daughter, she hopes that Rosey’s story will remind teenagers and parents that vaping is not as harmless as we’re led to believe.
When I see kids smoking e-cigarettes, I go up to them and tell them that I believe that’s what killed my daughter,” she confesses.
In March, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell launched a NSW Health anti-vaping awareness campaign, Get the Facts – Vaping Toolkit.
They explain that the main ingredient in vapes is propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or glycerol. The fruity flavours mask the fact that when vaping you’re inhaling the same chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and fly spray. Vapes can also contain nicotine even when labelled ‘nicotine-free’, helping to establish a nicotine addiction.
You can read more about this important campaign here.