E-cigarette pushers might’ve been blowing smoke when they claimed vaping was the broadly safer alternative to cigarettes and burning cannabis, after all.
Maryland on Wednesday joined a growing list of states reporting cases of severe health conditions related to vaping. Health officials confirmed in a statement that the state has seen five people with severe illnesses linked to vaping with “no clear infectious cause.” As Dawn Berkowitz, the state’s director for the health department’s Center for Tobacco and Control, put it: “There is so much we don’t know about the contents of these products.”
Among nearly 200 cases of vaping-related ailments reported across 22 states this summer as of Aug. 22, one Illinois resident died after vaping and contracting a respiratory illness. In another instance, a 20-year-old from Wisconsin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he worried he might die after being hospitalized for refilling his Juul with THC oil pods and nicotine pods he purchased locally. (Juul has said it doesn’t condone the THC pods, which it also doesn’t sell.)
"I was in so much pain,” the Wisconsin man, who spoke to the Journal-Sentinel anonymously from the hospital, said. He added later: "My CAT scan looked like a 70-year-old's lungs. That's what they said to me."
Milwaukee has urged people to stop vaping immediately.
And Maddie Nelson, an 18-year-old from Utah, told Salt Lake City’s Fox affiliate that she was placed in a medically-induced coma after falling severely ill with a vaping-related illness in late July. She said she purchased “all kinds” of different nicotine juices.
The bulk of the cases seem to involve patients inhaling tetrahydrocannabinol, from THC oil cartridges supposedly bought off the street or at head shops, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, federal health officials have yet to establish a reason why people would suddenly get so deathly ill from something millions of Americans have been doing for several years now. It’s also possible that some of the severe cases involved nicotine.
The CDC assured the public last week that it’s consulting with local health departments to investigate the root of the vaping-related illness as more cases crop up. Vaping is most popular with young adults and teens, with the CDC’s data showing about 3.6 million middle and high school students reported vaping in the past 30 days in 2018.
With the rash of recent illnesses, public health officials across the country are warning vaping enthusiasts to watch out for shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, and nausea. Of course, it’s not like people are safe smoking traditional cigarettes, either. Smoking a joint also comes with its risks. But, until the CDC gets to the bottom of the recent illnesses, it might be safer to avoid vaping.
“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming, and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” Illinois’ director of public health Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said in a statement last week after the agency reported a person had died from a vaping-related ailment.
Meanwhile, the CEO of JuuL Labs — the company most linked to the vaping craze right now — is defending his company and says there’s no indication his products are causing the scary lung illnesses. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Kevin Burns said they’re just monitoring the reports for now.
"We think we have a product that is legal today, is tested for toxicity, and does not present, you know, a risk based on the guidelines of the category today to the American public," Burns told CBS.
Cover: Trevor Husseini exhales a vape cloud in Honolulu on Thursday, March 28, 2019. Hawaii lawmakers are considering outlawing flavored tobacco and electronic cigarette liquids like Maui Mango and Cookie Monsta in an effort to stop escalating teenage vaping. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)