Latest on vaping illnesses: Hundreds more cases expected; lawmakers try to clamp down on e-cigarettes

Latest on vaping illnesses: Hundreds more cases expected; lawmakers try to clamp down on e-cigarettes


By:  Fedor Zarkhin

The vaping-related epidemic of severe lung disease is far from over as health officials warned Tuesday of hundreds of new cases to come with no clear idea of what precisely is causing the illnesses.

The testimony before Congress by Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, was just one of the daily developments in the outbreak that has so far killed nine people across the U.S., including one in Oregon.

Here’s the latest:

Vaping advice: Twenty-seven days after health officials announced the lung illness, the guidance from health experts continues to be “don’t vape.”

The Centers for Disease Control still “recommends that, regardless of the ongoing investigation, anyone who uses an e-cigarette or vaping products should not buy these products,” Schuchat told lawmakers.

In Oregon: The Oregon Health Authority announced it is now investigating five vaping-related illnesses in the state, up from four.

It has yet to release details about what products three of the victims used, where they bought them and whether the patients are still hospitalized.

The health agency earlier said the Oregon victim who died had vaped oils infused with THC, the chemical in marijuana that gives users a high and had purchased legal products from two retail marijuana shops.

Another Oregon victim, Justin Wilson, said in an interview that he used the popular e-cigarette brand Juul to vape both Juul-brand nicotine juice as well as cartridges from non-Juul brands compatible with the company’s devices. The 25-year-old had acute respiratory failure and would almost certainly have died if his friends hadn’t been there to call 911, his doctor told The Oregonian/OregonLive. Wilson said he no longer vapes.

The Multnomah County Board of Health joined the e-cigarette pile-on Tuesday, telling the county health department to ban all flavored tobacco products and urging e-cigarette users to stop.

“The tobacco and e-cigarette industry is constantly evolving,” the board’s announcement read. “Our laws and support systems must also evolve to protect our community.”

Nationwide: The Centers for Disease Control has received “hundreds” of new cases of vaping-related lung disease just in the last week, Schuchat told a congressional subcommittee.

And she said the health agency expects that to continue for the foreseeable future.

The official count, though, remains around 530 vaping-related lung illnesses tied to vaping in 38 states, many of them linked to e-cigarettes, or vape pens, that consumers used to inhale THC oils. Some of the marijuana products were bought “on the street,” officials have said.

It will grow as the CDC analyzes the glut of new cases, she said.

Breakdown: The Centers for Disease Control now has complete data on sex and age for 373 cases, Schuchat told lawmakers.

The findings show three-quarters of the victims are male, two-thirds are 18 to 34 years old and 16 percent are minors.

Investigation: Federal and state governments are “working around the clock,” Schuchat said, “to identify the cause or causes of this outbreak.”

The CDC has partnered with numerous state health departments and with the Food and Drug Administration to collect and summarize data from across the country.

Schuchat said the investigation has been difficult because it involves so many states, a “multitude” of e-cigarette products, many ingredients, a product that is illegal at the federal level – marijuana – and devices that can be modified by users.

Making matters worse, she said, the agency is trying to collect information from states that have outdated health records systems, including some that track information on paper and send it using fax machines.

Suspected causes: No one chemical or substance has been found in all samples analyzed, the CDC has said.

A common culprit in some cases is oil that has lodged in the lungs. Most e-cigarettes deliver nicotine or THC by vaporizing oil or a mix of oil and other liquids.

In North Carolina, doctors diagnosed five patients with acute lipoid pneumonia, a condition where the immune system attacks oil droplets in the lungs and fills the lungs up with fluids as a result. That immune system reaction can lead to acute respiratory failure of a severity that patients can die from if there’s no immediate medical intervention. The North Carolina patients all survived, according to a study published by the treating physicians.

Regulation: There’s been a flurry of activity both at state and federal levels to curb the potential impact of vaping.

U.S. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced a bill that would help prevent tampering with e-cigarettes.

The bill would require the federal agency that regulates nicotine products to standardize e-cigarette design in a way that could prevent tampering or mixing with home-made products.

The bill was announced the same day that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a four-month ban on all e-cigarettes, to start Wednesday.

The actions follow multiple weeks of other bureaucratic steps aimed at reigning in the products authorities and physicians fear have put Americans – youths, in particular – at risk. The Senate on Sept. 11 demanded action from the Food and Drug Administration, accusing the agency of having a lackadaisical approach to a dangerous product that the agency has the power to regulate.

That same day, President Donald Trump proposed a ban on thousands of flavored e-cigarette products.