Vaping-Related Illness is Shaping up to be a Modern Health Crisis

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The number of vaping-related illnesses has soared this year, with more than 500 cases cropping up in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory. The mysterious illness resembling a rare form of pneumonia has also caused the deaths of at least 11 people, causing alarm throughout the country and prompting many to question the safety of vaping.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have partnered with state health officials to begin testing samples of vape products while closely monitoring new cases. Patients who have been diagnosed with the illness are said to experience symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and weight loss. Some cases have been so severe that patients were required to be put on supplemental oxygen, as breathing became all but impossible without help. 

Lung x-rays show severe inflammation, similar to how they would look if a pathogen had infected them. But when doctors run the necessary tests to detect a bacterial or viral source, they come up negative. No specific vaping products have been linked to any of the cases as of yet. 

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

All patients reported to have used vaping products, including THC and nicotine-based liquids. While these devices have been around for more than a decade, the bulk of the cases started showing up in July, baffling doctors as to why we are only seeing it now.

In a statement released by the New York Department of Health, vitamin E acetate was a chemical compound found in very high levels of all of the cannabis-based vaping products they tested. While vitamin E acetate is a common nutritional supplement when ingested correctly, doctors don’t know how damaging the compound can be when vaporized and inhaled through the lungs. 

Vitamin E acetate has not been found in nicotine based products, and some patients reported not to have used cannabis-based vaping products at all. This has led the CDC to distance themselves from the findings, as they simply do not apply to all of the cases. 

The lack of regulation in the vaping industry can potentially be a huge risk, as products have little oversight as to which compounds are added. This danger is only more so present on the black market, where THC-based vaping cartridges are very common. Counterfeiters have been known to mass-produce knockoffs of well-known brands, filling them with contaminants that can be extremely damaging when inhaled.

In response, there has been a swift crackdown on the vaping industry as a whole. The outbreak has prompted the White House to likely announce the ban of flavored e-cigarettes in the coming months. Research has shown flavored vaping products are likely to draw adolescents into smoking, and a large number of reported cases are in the 15-24 age demographic. Law enforcement is taking a more aggressive approach in investigating black market THC vaping products as well.

California officials have issued a warning that people should immediately stop vaping until further investigation has been completed.  “People are getting sick and some are dying as a result of vaping,” Gov. Newsom said in a statement Tuesday. “Californians are encouraged to stop vaping until health officials fully understand what’s causing this public health crisis.”

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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