Possible vaping, severe lung illness link sparks CDC probe

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating whether a series of lung illnesses reported across multiple states is linked to vaping.

Last week, dozens of teens in the Midwest were hospitalized with lung issues that were possibly tied to vaping. Cases were primarily reported in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Patients reported similar symptoms – shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, and vomiting in some cases – and some were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Teens across the states reported using vaping devices for both nicotine and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” sensation, prior to their hospitalization.

In a statement over the weekend, the federal health agency said it’s “providing consultation” to state health departments in Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Indiana, and Minnesota “about a cluster of pulmonary illnesses linked to e-cigarette product use, or ‘vaping’ primarily among adolescents and young adults.”

“Additional states have alerted CDC to possible (not confirmed) cases and investigations into these cases are ongoing,” the CDC added, noting there is “no conclusive evidence” that an infectious disease is behind the illnesses.

In total, there have been nearly 94 cases of “severe” illnesses associated with using e-cigarettes. Cases have been reported across 14 states since June 28, and at least 30 were reported in Wisconsin, according to the CDC.

The negative health effects associated with cigarette and cigar use have long been documented, leading to a decline in both among teens in the U.S. in recent years.

In 2018, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported roughly 1 in 50 – about 1.8 percent – of middle school students said they smoked cigarettes in the past  30 days, down from 4.3 percent in 2011 and a drastic decrease from 36.4 percent in 1997 when rates “peaked after increasing throughout the first half of the 1990s,” according to the American Lung Association. 

But the same is not true for e-cigarette use. In 2018, nearly 1 of every 20 middle school students (4.9 percent) reported using electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days. That's an increase from less than 1 percent in 2011.

Last year, the Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams, declared vaping among American teens an “epidemic."

"This is an unprecedented challenge,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in response at the time. 

The health issues – both short and long term – of e-cigarette use are not well understood, and the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) does not require the manufacturers of e-cigarette devices to list all the ingredients in them.

A recent study from Yale University and Duke University found the e-cigarette liquid in Juul devices contain chemicals known as acetals. Acetals, according to the researchers, could cause lung irritation.

Separately, the FDA announced last week it's investigating 127 reports of seizures occurring after vaping.