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Clearing the Air on the Vaping Epidemic

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — For months we’ve been hearing about vaping related injuries across the country. According to the CDC, there are more than 1,000 confirmed and probable vaping cases in the U.S.

The number of cases continues to rise here in Minnesota. Health officials at the state department say they receive at least one to two new cases a day.

The state health department says there have been 3 confirmed deaths, 97 lung injuries due to vaping with 45 more cases under review as of Nov. 5.

Health care providers are close to finding out what is causing acute lung injury and leaving people on respirators.

Minnesota Department of Health Assistant State Epidemiologist Rich Danila.

Minnesota Department of Health Assistant State Epidemiologist Rich Danila says the statistics are very high.

“Twenty-five percent of 11th graders report regularly vaping nicotine,” he said.

Noah Rohleder is a hard working student and part-time worker who knows a thing or two about vaping because he vapes and has been for years, starting in high school.

Noah Rohleder.

Rohleder vapes the e-liquid or juice with the lowest commercially available concentration of nicotine, and says he stopped vaping after high school until the challenges of college picked up.

“From high school to college stress picks up. You’re working, being a full-time student and this is kind of nice like my vice in a way,” Rohleder said, while looking at his vape.

He is not the only one. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 95 percent of students indicated they know someone who vapes, and physicians like Dr. Xavier Fonseca Fuentes at Mayo Clinic are concerned.

Mayo Clinic Pulmonary and Critical Care Dr. Xavier Fonseca Fuentes.

We asked Dr. Fonseca Fuentes, as a Pulmonologist if he is worried about the consequences of vaping.

“I’m very worried because this can create detrimental effects in the lungs we don’t know yet what’s going to happen to them. We don’t know if people are going to survive from these,” he said.

Mayo Clinic Addiction Specialist  Dr. Jon Ebbert strongly opposes young children vaping.

“As an addiction specialist, I would say that I feel very strongly that anyone under the age of 25 should not be using any type of potentially addictive chemical period,” Ebbert said.

Mayo Clinic Inhaled Particle Aerosol Lab Director Dr. Ebbert.

Dr. Ebbert says vape juices have five to six different chemicals coming from the aerosol from the devices, but that’s not all.

“You heat those substances with the metal coil that’s inside this atomizer,” Ebbert said while looking at the aerosol machine that tests for different chemicals. “You can create new chemical species.”

Ebbert added that the metals are inhaled by the user.

At the Mayo Clinic Inhaled Particle Aerosol Lab, Dr. Ebbert is looking for answers.

“We are struggling with the fact that these products are not regulated there is really no oversight of manufacturing,” Ebbert said.

“This is killing people and it’s important to generate more research ideas, this is an emergency among health care providers,” added Dr. Fonseca Fuentes.

Danila the assistant state epidemiologist said there are not a lot of answers.

“We still don’t really ultimately know what the cause of this or what started this whole outbreak,” Danila said. “It’s just an unknown at this point.”

THC is found in the marijuana plant.

But health care professionals now believe it’s due to illicit THC. THC is found in the marijuana plant and is the main mind-altering component, but research on the chemical is prohibited.

“We do not have the federal approval to analyze THC,” Dr. Ebbert said.

Beyond that, those who vape illicit THC don’t always know where the product is being made which is making it harder to get the bottom of the epidemic.

“You can’t trace it back it’s illegal,” Danila said. “It stops with the user they might not even know the name of the drug dealer and the drug dealer we can’t interview to find out where it was produced.”

Adding to the problem, Danila said some labs, including the lab he works in, found Vitamin E Acetate in this e-liquid, another chemical that is harmful to human lungs.

However, there’s not yet enough research to say if that chemical is the source of all the problems.

That’s the common thread here, so many confirmed cases, not many answers.

“We’ve been getting closer to figuring this out, but i’m not sure we’re are ever gonna figure it out exactly, so at some point we have to figure out another way to address the problem,” Danila said.

“I’m a little worried just because it is new and kind of undetermined, a lot of science behind it,” Rohleder said.

According to Ebbert, one thing is certain.

“These products need to be made safer, and that’s really what we are trying to understand is: what is the risk of the use these products? And are there any design elements that could be leveraged to make them safer?”

Ubah Ali

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