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Health professionals urge people to stop vaping as lung illnesses and deaths climb

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – The Trump administration says it’s preparing to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes on Wednesday, at a time when the number of people sickened by lung illnesses linked to vaping continues to climb. The move also aimed at dissuading teens from picking up the habit.

Health officials have launched a multi-state investigation into the rapidly growing number of vaping-related illnesses that have put otherwise healthy people in the hospital with lung diseases.

“It’s really scary because we don’t know what the cause is so we don’t know how to prevent it other than to tell people you shouldn’t vape,” said Dr. Taylor Hays, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at Mayo Clinic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are 6 deaths and more than 450 cases of lung illnesses across 33 states, including in Minnesota. Health officials from the MDH confirmed last week that a 65-year-old patient died due to vaping illicit THC products.

Health professionals believe there is a chemical that’s responsible for the illnesses, but haven’t yet identified a single substance, product or device linking them all. That uncertainty is leading many to issue an urgent warning about vaping, something many saw as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco.

“We’re questioning whether or e-cigarettes or vaping devices are really gonna be the answer people were looking for,” said Hays.

In Minnesota, there are 28 confirmed or probable cases of severe lung injuries connected to vaping, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. 24 reported vaping illicit THC, a psychoactive chemical component of marijuana.

“About 40 percent of our cases or higher, end up in the Intensive Care Unit and a good portion of them end up on a ventilator,” said Richard Danila, deputy state epidemiologist.

State health departments are testing vaping material patients use and found many of the illicit THC products contained significant levels of vitamin E acetate.

“We really don’t know what that means. Was that added by the drug dealer… is vitamin E itself the mechanism causing the injury or is there some other contaminant,” said Danila.

Hays noted people didn’t know what the long-term health effects were when cigarettes first came on scene until 20 or 30 years later. “We don’t want to repeat that experience.”

Mayo Clinic is updating its electronic health record in a few weeks to capture patients’ vaping history, according to Hays.

In the meantime, the Minnesota Department of Health is urging people not to use illicit THC products. The CDC and Dr. Hays go even further and suggest that consumers not vape at all.

Linda Ha

Reporter | @LindaHaTV |

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