A lot has happened since the first reports of the mysterious, deadly lung illness linked to vaping first trickled out of Wisconsin late July. One of the companies believed to be at the forefront of a spike in e-cigarette use, Juul, has suspended sales of its fruity flavors. Meanwhile, multiple states have begun enacting their own vaping bans, and First Lady Melania Trump has hosted a forum on vaping with teens at the White House.
But as lawmakers and regulatory agencies scramble to figure out what exactly went wrong, health officials are focused on what can be done to stop it. On Thursday afternoon, that mission took on new urgency with the release of new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which show the total number of lung injury cases linked to e-cigarettes or vaping products has now reached 1,479, extending to every state but Alaska. Perhaps most alarmingly, the death rate for the illness continues to climb, with the CDC confirming 33 deaths in 24 states thus far. The vast majority of those affected remain male (70 percent) and close to 80 percent are under 35.
As of this week, the CDC has officially given the illness a name: EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. Doctors say the illness can resemble pneumonia, with common symptoms including severe cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills. In the majority of cases, those who have experienced the illness felt a sudden onset of symptoms so severe that it led to hospitalization.
On Tuesday, the New York Times shared the story of a 22-year-old college student who found himself on “the verge of death” after smoking THC vape products from the dark web. “It was terrible,” the student’s mother told the Times. “I will never forget the doctor’s face. I prayed, ‘Please, God, don’t let him go.’” Another student in Colorado shared a similar story with CBS “This Morning” In September, saying that vaping is not worth “seeing your parents cry as you are in a hospital bed.”
Although much of the focus in recent weeks has been on black market THC products (the majority of those with EVALI have reportedly used THC products), a new study this week from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center published in the journal of Cancer Prevention Research found that e-cigarettes may carry longterm health risks of their own. “New research data suggests that even short-term e-cig use can cause cellular inflammation in never-smoker adults,” the authors conclude. “Inflammation from smoking is an important driver of lung cancer and other respiratory disease development.”
In an announcement shared with Yahoo Lifestyle, Juul said that its decision to remove its non-menthol flavored pods (specifically Mint, Creme, Mango and Fruit) comes in response to the Food and Drug Administration’s concerns about the safety of their product. “We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” said Juul.
Until a specific cause of the outbreak has been identified, the CDC is recommending that Americans avoid e-cigarettes and vaping products at all costs. “I can’t stress enough the seriousness of these lung injuries associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products,” Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director of the CDC, said in a recent press conference. “This is a critical issue. And even while we learn more, we need to take steps to prevent additional cases. We are not seeing a meaningful drop-off in new cases.”
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