Vaping has become a problem in recent years as it has gained popularity, especially among the younger population. Now, an even bigger problem is emerging. A lung illness associated with vaping has become increasingly common in the past months, affecting mostly men with a median age of 19. The situation started gaining more attention over the summer, and recent fatalities have brought even more awareness to the now common issue which has affected hundreds of people.
On August 23, the first fatality from vaping occurred in Illinois. A second death was reported on September 4 in Oregon, proving that the problem is close to home. By September 12, the death count had jumped to six. As of September 19, there were 8 confirmed deaths and 530 cases that had been identified as vaping-related. As more and more cases are being reported across the country, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state, and local health departments are racing to find the exact source of these illnesses.
This has proven difficult for multiple reasons. First, doctors have no way of telling what kind of vaping devices the patient has used and how frequently they have used them, except for what the patient tells them. Second, there are so many different chemicals in different vaping devices and so little research on the effects of each individual chemical combination when inhaled. Both these problems prove very difficult for researchers to pinpoint one specific cause or chemical.
The CDC has not yet announced an official cause, saying on their website, “We do not yet know the specific cause of these illnesses. The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) or substance that is linked to all cases.” But, possibly problematic chemical ingredients have been found. The most well known chemical is an oil called vitamin E acetate that has been found in many marijuana vaping products. While the CDC does not mention vitamin E oil on their website, researchers and doctors at the FDA have found how it affects the lungs.
When someone inhales a vape containing vitamin E acetate, the oil is vaporized. Once inside the person’s lungs, the vaporized oil cools and returns to its liquid state, coating the lungs in a layer of oil. This makes the lungs irritated and causes them to swell. This in turn causes the person to be unable to adequately take in air and can lead to death in extreme circumstances.
While this discovery seems like it could be the answer to this outbreak, there are still unanswered questions. For example, what about the people who only use nicotine vapes and are suffering from the effects of vaping? Vitamin E acetate was not found in any of the nicotine vapes tested by the New York Health Department, so are there other factors contributing to these cases? The CDC is trying as hard as possible to answer these questions. Many healthcare professionals have theories as to what could be causing these illnesses.
Among them is Franklin’s school nurse, Kay Manley. According to her, when vaping, you are inhaling more “smoke” (vapor) than you would while smoking cigarettes or marijuana. Manley’s personal opinion is that these illnesses are happening because of the increased amount of chemicals being put into our lungs as a result of the increased amount of “smoke” intake. “Our lungs are very sensitive tissues, and any time we’re putting a lot of chemicals into them, it can cause problems,” she said. While Manley has not directly worked with anything related to vaping, she says she has taken classes on the topic and has been following the recent stories in the news.
As for the future, Manley says that we need to learn more about vaping and all of its effects on us. She says these illnesses “need to be taken very seriously” and the government needs to come up with a solution for these illnesses. The current issues have many groups advocating for a change in the laws and regulation around vaping. Some of the most prominent groups include the Truth Initiative and Parents Against Vaping, to name two of the many around the country. These groups are pushing the CDC towards a solution and hoping that the situation is solved before the problem gets worse.