Until recently, vaping was considered a public health crisis because of the sheer numbers of juveniles and teens who have experimented with e-cigarettes.
But after a spate of severe lung illnesses across the country that health officials say are tied to e-cigarettes, the cause for concern has grown more dire.
Unlike the Surgeon’s General warning that chewing or smoking tobacco puts users at risk for long-term health complications, health officials are warning people that vaping can harm today — right now — until they can unravel the mystery of what’s making people contract serious breathing illnesses.
On Friday, officials reported new vaping-related deaths in Indiana, Minnesota and California, raising the recent death toll from two to five. So far, at least 450 potential cases of vaping-related lung illness have been identified in 33 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State and federal health authorities are trying to sort out common factors. As the Associated Press reported Friday, no single vaping device, liquid or ingredient has been tied to all the illnesses. The Washington Post reported that many patients have told officials and clinicians that they bought cannabis products off the street. Many of those who have fallen ill say they have vaped products containing marijuana, but some also used traditional nicotine e-cigarettes. Many report using both.
For now, an oil derived from vitamin E is looking like a chief culprit. That same chemical was found in nearly all cannabis samples from patients who fell ill in New York in recent weeks, the Post reported.
The Food and Drug Administration is continuing to test vaping products for adulterants. But federal and state health officials are urging people to stop vaping until they zero in on the cause of respiratory ailments.
Let’s hope this serves as a wake-up call for users of vape products, especially young people. Colorado has the highest rate of teen vaping in the nation. According to a 2017 state survey, 27% of youths reported they used e-cigarette products.
Earlier this year, in support of a now-failed effort to get a vaping tax on this year’s ballot, Dr. Robin Deterding, a pediatric lung specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado described vaping as an “epidemic” — largely because “kids don’t know it’s harmful. They think it’s just flavored vapor.”
But for developing brains, nicotine changes the neural circuitry, predisposing teens to become future smokers, she said.
To that we can now add the uncertainty that illicit vaping products may contain unapproved chemicals that can cause near-instant damage to a person’s lungs — if not death.
Once health officials figure out what’s making people sick, we should expect some legislation aimed at reducing vaping use among children. That vaping tax that the Colorado Senate failed to approve for the ballot is looking like a dropped ball about now.