The Death Toll From Vaping-Related Illness Keeps Rising

“There is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response.”

WASHINGTON — A nationwide wave of vaping-related illnesses has doubled to 450 cases since last week, and U.S. health officials and medical experts still don’t know what’s causing it.

Medical experts are now investigating a fourth death linked to vaping in Minnesota, and national health officials urged people on Friday to stop vaping until they can figure out what’s causing users to have serious breathing issues.


“There is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response,” David Christiani, a Harvard University public health professor, wrote in an editorial Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Officials haven’t identified any particular product, device or ingredient as the common factor behind hundreds of cases now being probed across 33 states and one U.S. territory, representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.

Mysterious cases of vaping-related lung disease have proliferated rapidly over the past month, prompting a frantic search for an explanation. Only a week ago, there were 215 suspected cases in 25 states.

Deaths have been reported in Indiana, Illinois and Oregon. A fourth fatality was announced Friday by the Minnesota Department of Health. The department said the person was over 65 and died after being hospitalized for a lung injury incurred after vaping an illicit product containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

New York state officials have suggested the culprit may be “very high” levels of vitamin E found in some vape cartridges containing cannabis.

But while a majority of people who’ve gotten sick have vaped from cartridges containing cannabis products, some have only been vaping nicotine, according to the CDC.

“While the investigation is ongoing, the CDC has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes, because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing lung disease,” Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, who is investigating the matter for the CDC, told reporters on a conference call Friday.


“We are committed to finding out what is making people sick,” said Robert Redfield, director of the CDC. “All available information is being carefully analyzed, and these initial findings are helping us narrow the focus of our investigation.”

For now, the whole thing remains pretty mysterious, wrote Christiani.

“Until the investigation into the cause of this epidemic of vaping-induced respiratory injury is complete, no conclusions can be drawn as to which compound or compounds are the causes of injury,” he wrote. “Physicians should discourage their patients from vaping.”

Cover: A man breathes vape from an e-cigarette at a vape shop in London, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)