(WWLP) – The Center for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and state and local health departments are continuing to investigate an outbreak of lung injuries associated with vaping across the United States.
Vaping health crisis by the numbers
As of November 13, there have been 2,172 cases of vaping-associated lung illnesses reported to the CDC from 49 states. Among those cases, there have been 42 deaths reported in 24 states. The victims who died range in age from 17 to 75 years-old.
In Massachusetts, three patients have died of a vaping-associated lung injury since September, which is when clinicians were mandated to report any unexplained lung injury in a patient with a history of vaping to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The victims have been identified as a woman in her 60s from Hampshire County, a woman in her 40s from Middlesex County, and a man in his 50s from Worcester County. According to the Mass DPH, the women reported vaping nicotine, whereas the male victim reported vaping both nicotine and THC.
What is to blame for the vaping health crisis?
The CDC and FDA have been submitting samples of fluid collected from the lungs of patients with vaping-associated lung injuries for laboratory testing over the last few months.
For the first time in their investigation, the CDC detected a potential chemical of concern in these samples–Vitamin E acetate. The CDC described Vitamin E acetate as an additive in some THC-containing products.
Recent CDC laboratory test results of BAL samples from 29 patients submitted to CDC from 10 states identified vitamin E acetate in all BAL fluid samples. THC was identified in 82% of the samples and nicotine was identified in 62% of the samples.CDC
The FDA also found Vitamin E acetate in a majority of their samples (74 percent) taken from patients linked to THC products. According to the CDC, Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive in THC vaping products because it resembles THC oil. It is also used as a thickening ingredient in e-liquids.
Although Vitamin E has been identified as a potential culprit, the CDC and FDA note that it could be just one piece of the puzzle.
“It may be that there is more than one cause of this outbreak,” the CDC reports. “Many different substances and product sources are still under investigation.”
Are other countries having a similar vaping health crisis?
22News reached out to the European Commission’s Health and Food Safety department for some insight into vaping in other countries.
“The European Union has, indeed, very stringent legislation on electronic cigarettes and several additives are prohibited,” Press Officer Aikaterini Apostola said. “For example, additives that create the impression of health benefits, such as vitamins, are not permitted.”
Apostola told 22News the European Union is aware of the recently reported adverse effects of vaping and are following the investigations of the FDA very closely. She added that the EU has a system called ‘SafetyGate’ in which electronic cigarettes identified as a serious risk to human health are reported.
Massachusetts vaping product ban
Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency in response to the severe lung disease outbreak associated with vaping on September 24. As a result, all vaping products are prohibited from sale in Massachusetts.
The governor’s ban on the sale of vaping products for medical marijuana patients lifted on November 12, but on the same day, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission ordered a quarantine of all oil-based marijuana vaping products, keeping them off the shelves for medical marijuana patients.
The governor’s ban on the sale of vaping products in the state is set to last until January (four months).
Gandara Center’s Hampden County Tobacco Free Community Partnership Director Sara Moriarty told 22News it’s not necessarily true that what’s sold in stores is safe compared to black market/online products.
“A lot of people think because there was some slight regulations that that means, ‘oh it’s regulated, it’s safe,’ Moriarty explained. “But the regulations that were put in place were not the same kinds of regulations regular tobacco cigarettes go through, there’s no manufacturing regulations put in place. So you don’t know what you’re getting from product to product.”
Youth vaping in Massachusetts
Vaping is not only popular with adults. Gandara Center’s Hampden County Tobacco Free Community Partnership Director Sara Moriarty told 22News in Massachusetts, more than 20 percent of youth are vaping.
“What we’re seeing now, it’s a complete epidemic,” Moriarty said. “It’s gotten in the hands of the wrong people, and now we have youth who were never intended to use this product who are completely addicted, youth who would have never been initiated into tobacco use now cannot get off the product.”
Teens who need help quitting text “VapeFreeMass” to 88709.
When to see a doctor
Patients in the CDC’s investigation into vaping-associated lung injuries have experienced the following symptoms:
- cough, shortness of breath, chest pain
- nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea
- fever, chills, weight loss
Some patients developed these symptoms over a few days, while other developed them over a few weeks.
Physician Assistant Rina Patel from the American Family Care urgent care center in West Springfield told 22News she always asks patients if they smoke or vape when they come in with these symptoms.
Patel added that vaping can affect your immune system.
“It causes inflammation and it makes your lungs weaker to fight off things, like viruses and bacteria that you face outside during the flu season, during the spring, or any time of the year,” Patel said.
For now, the CDC recommends that you do not use any vaping products that contain THC.
“Data suggests products containing THC, particularly those obtained from informal sources (like friends, family, or in-person or online dealers) play a major role in the outbreak,” the organization tweeted.