As the popularity of e-cigarettes continues to grow, more people are reporting health problems from vaping, with an Illinois resident dying from “severe respiratory illness” in the last week.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said Friday that the number of reported cases doubled in one week to 22, and officials are currently investigating 12 more cases.
Though the respiratory illnesses appear to be linked to a patient’s prior use of nicotine and/or THC-containing products, medical professionals have yet to conclusively determine the connection, and whether specific brands of vapes or e-cigarettes are causing the health issue.
And other states are dealing with similar cases of residents experiencing severe coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue that worsen to vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control say they are looking into 153 reports of severe lung illness in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin in just two months, from June 28 to Aug. 20.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating 127 reports of seizures related to vaping, with 92 of the cases occurring between April and August.
At this point, researchers are lacking in data to determine if e-cigarette use will have long term effects on users’ health. However, the American Lung Association has said that they emit toxic chemicals that are known to do damage.
“While much remains to be determined about the lasting health consequences of these products, the American Lung Association is very troubled by the evolving evidence about the impact of e-cigarettes on the lungs,” they said.
The FDA and CDC are currently cracking down on e-cigarette makers for their marketing practices, as use of the devices among kids under 18 has reached “an epidemic proportion.”
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After undercover operations in 2018, the FDA discovered that many national retailers like Walgreens and 7-Eleven are illegally selling Juul cigarettes, the most popular e-cigarette on the market, to minors. Under federal law, sales of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 is prohibited.
“We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
The FDA is targeting retailers of e-cigarettes, along with the manufacturers. The agency said that if Juul and four other companies fail to stop the sales to minors, their products will be pulled off shelves. In November, Juul independently decided to remove all of their flavored pods, like mango and coconut, from stores to limit teen use.
Juul caught on with high school students for their easily concealed size — they look like a flash drive — and the variety of fruit flavors. While Juul does not have the same toxins present in cigarettes, they provide a higher dose of nicotine. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 11.7 percent of high school students and 3.3 percent of middle school students — over 2.1 million total — reported using an e-cigarette in 2017, though the number is thought to be much higher.
In April, the FDA requested information about Juul’s marketing practices, believing the company purposely targeted minors in advertisements.
A former ad campaign manager for the brand told the New York Times that original Juul marketing campaigns focused on potential customers in their 20s or 30s. When the ads were deemed unsuccessful, the company started using younger models for the ads. They made sure the models were at least 21, but the ads showed a significantly younger demographic enjoying Juul. In late 2016 or January 2017, the company went back to older models, deciding that they should be at least 35.
The FDA said they are still focused on ending adult addictions to nicotine, but they need to help kids first.
“We won’t allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue,” Gottlieb said. “We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine.”