Vaping has quickly grown in popularity throughout the world, with estimates showing from 7 million vapers in 2011 to 25 million in a few years.
After being sold for more than ten years, it wasn’t until 2019 that reports of lung illnesses tied to e-cigarettes, or vapes, suddenly began appearing with alarming frequency. Until the recent rash of lung illnesses, vaping was said to be a healthy option for smokers. Now, deeply concerned about the spike in vaping among young people, states and the federal government plan for e cigarette ban to most flavored versions of the e-cigarettes.
Illnesses linked to vaping have put otherwise healthy people in the hospital with serious lung diseases. Federal reports indicate that at least 1,888 cases have appeared in almost every state but Alaska, all tied to vaping devices or e-cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that at least 37 deaths have been confirmed in 24 states.
What are Vapes and E-Cigarettes?
Vapes and e-cigarettes are small hand-held devices which can look like pens or flash drives. They heat up liquids typically containing nicotine and marijuana.
Before needing to be hospitalized, patients reported often-similar symptoms including:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
Many victims have acquired acute respiratory distress syndrome. When this life-threatening condition appears, fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents oxygen in the body from circulating in the bloodstream.
Who is Getting Sick?
In an investigation by Illinois and Wisconsin health departments, tracked 53 patients. The patients were mostly young men at a median age of 19. Most had to be hospitalized, many going to intensive care units. One-third had to be put on respirators.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials indicate that those who have fallen sick as of late October who have provided demographic information are young and male.
- Just under 80 percent are under 25
- Median age is 24
Of those cases that have resulted in death:
- Ages range from 17 to 75
- Median age of patients is 53
The first person reported to have died from the sickness was in August 2019 in Illinois. The product used was linked to the black market. A second death occurred in Oregon, where a middle-aged adult fell ill after vaping marijuana oil purchased at a legal store.
As of late October 2019, 37 deaths have been reported in 24 states and the District of Columbia:
- California (3)
- Georgia (3)
- Illinois (2)
- Indiana (2)
- Kansas (2)
- Minnesota (3)
- New Jersey
- New York
- Oregon (2)
- Tennessee (2)
Why is Vaping Making Some People Sick?
Vaping illnesses are being studied by various government entities to determine:
- Which is the most common cause, e-cigarettes or marijuana vaping?
- What is in the products that makes people sick?
So far, THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, has been present in most samples tested by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Eleven percent of patients say they have only vaped nicotine.
While there is speculation that vitamin E acetate is the culprit, a single ingredient has not yet been proven to cause illness. Researchers speculate that more than one component caused the outbreak. The components and product sources continue to be investigated.
Both national and state study results so far show that products with THC, particularly those bought on the street or from “informal sources” such as friends, family and illicit dealers, are linked to most of the cases, and play a major role in the outbreak of lung diseases.
Some of the most compelling results have been provided by officials in Illinois and Wisconsin. Through in-depth interviews with 86 patients, a strong majority reported using prefilled THC vape cartridges bought from informal sources.
In their investigation, the FDA discovered the same vitamin E-derived oil was used as a thickening agent in products vaped by several sickened people throughout the country. The New York health department also reported that vitamin E acetate was present in most of the cannabis samples provided by victims.
Black Market Sources
A criminal investigation is being conducted by the FDA and Drug Enforcement Administration. They are not pursuing individuals who vape but want to determine if someone is manufacturing and distributing adulterated vaping products that caused illness and death. This would be considered a criminal act.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed the state health department to subpoena three companies that sell products cut with thickening agents, almost pure vitamin E acetate, to adjust THC levels in products obtained from the black market, which typically sells at a much cheaper price.
Thickening agents are added to THC oil in illicit products. These thickeners are marketed and available on the Internet. According to The Washington Post, the same vitamin E acetate chemical has been found nationwide in the vaping products. It was also found in almost all cannabis samples provided by patients who have fallen ill in New York.
So far, no medical marijuana patients have been reported for illness or death, which may indicate that medical patients buy from legitimate sources.
Counterfeit Brands Have Been Identified
The CDC has identified certain brands as counterfeit, and reports that distributors use packaging easily bought online. These entities market THC vaping cartridges, apparently not using any central production or distribution.
The research in Wisconsin and Illinois has indicated that users who sustained lung damage smoked illicit vape cartridges.
Patients reported using THC products under other brands including:
- California Confidential
- Chronic Carts
- Dank Vapes
- Mario Carts
- Moon Rocks
- Off White
- Smart Carts
- Supreme G
The CDC reports that patients have said they have obtained and been sickened by nicotine e-cigarettes under the brand names of:
- Air Factory
- Salt Nic
- Suorin Drop
- Vuse Alto
The FDA is planning a e cigarette ban to all flavored e-cigarettes and require that tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes go through federal review. It is believed that young people, and vapers in general, are drawn to flavored vapes. A policy under development would give the FDA the power to carry out the e cigarette ban and remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market. In the meantime, some states and cities are developing bans.
Other thoughts beside e cigarette ban to put forward to combat teen vaping have been to regulate advertising targeting young people, taxing e-cigarettes and banning the use of vapes in indoor public places.