Vaping linked to more than 1,000 illnesses in US, health officials say

Increase in deaths brings total fatalities to 19 people in 16 states

Denise Grady
Friday 04 October 2019 09:34
Experiment shows vaping is less harmful than smoking

Illnesses and deaths linked to vaping have continued to increase around the United States, now totalling 1,080 cases and 19 deaths, health officials said.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that cases had occurred in 48 states and the United States Virgin Islands. This week, Nebraska, Alabama, Delaware, Connecticut, Virginia and New Jersey reported deaths, which brought the total to 19 in 16 states.

The new case count reflects an increase of 275 in just the past week.

About half of the 275 were hospitalised in the past two weeks and the rest were older cases whose link to vaping has just been recognised, Dr Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said during a news briefing.

She described the outbreak as “continuing at a brisk pace,” emphasised that the illnesses were serious and life-threatening, and called the proportion of patients hospitalised and in intensive care “just terrible.”

“We know that additional deaths are under investigation,” Dr Schuchat said.

About 70 per cent of the patients were male, 80 per cent under 35 years old and 16 per cent younger than 18, she said.

Among the patients who died, the median age was about 50, and the proportion of women was higher than in the overall group of patients.

In response to the outbreak of illnesses as well as the increasing rate of teenage vaping, several states have ordered bans on flavoured e-cigarettes.

The Trump administration has said that it would draft a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes as well.

But earlier this week, a New York appeals court ordered a temporary stay of a statewide flavour ban that was to take effect on Friday. Vaping groups had filed suit against the ban, contending that it would hurt retailers and adults who use the products.

The vaping industry is also battling a more extensive ban of all vaping products in Massachusetts.

Dr Howard Zucker, the New York state health commissioner, called the outbreak a “public health emergency,” adding: “It is undeniable that the vaping industry is using flavoured e-cigarettes to get young people hooked on potentially dangerous and deadly products. While the court’s ruling temporarily delays our scheduled enforcement of this ban, it will not deter us from using every tool at our disposal to address this crisis.”

Symptoms of the illness include coughing and breathing trouble that can become severe enough to require that patients be attached to ventilators. Some also have nausea, vomiting and fever. Many have vaped THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis; some have vaped both THC products and nicotine. Some say they have vaped only nicotine.

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It is not yet possible to tell whether the illness comes on quickly or is the cumulative effect of long-time vaping.

The exact cause of the illness is still not known, although CDC officials have been referring to “chemical exposure.”

The culprit could be one or more ingredients in the vaping fluids, or a toxin released from the materials used to make vaping devices, which contain heated coils that vaporize fluids or other substances. Many of the ingredients in the products are unknown.

“I wish we had more answers regarding the specific harmful products or components that are causing these illnesses,” Dr Schuchat said.

She added: “I think we have the feeling right now that there may be a lot of different nasty things in e-cigarettes or vaping products, and they may cause different harms in the lungs.”

In some cases, the injury to the lung tissue looks like a chemical burn, the same kind of damage that occurs from industrial accidents where chemicals spill and people inhale poisonous fumes, experts in lung pathology from the Mayo Clinic reported earlier this week.

Their findings were based on studying samples of lung tissue from 17 patients, ages 19 to 67, who became ill after vaping. Most reported vaping THC.

During the briefing, Ms Schuchat was asked if THC vaping products could be considered safe if purchased from dispensaries in states that license them.

She replied: “With all the data I’ve been seeing, I don’t know what safe is now.”

The New York Times

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