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24 people hospitalized with lung issues and vaping might be to blame – CNET

891 min read
Young woman vaping

At least 24 people have been hospitalized with vaping-related respiratory issues since July — many of them young adults. 

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Health concerns over vaping have intensified after reports that at least two dozen Midwesterners — many of them young adults — have been hospitalized since July with suspected vaping-related respiratory issues. Wisconsin Department of Health Services has confirmed 12 cases of lung disease across six counties and is investigating 13 additional reports. The Illinois Department of Public Health confirms it has received reports of six young people experiencing severe breathing problems after vaping and is currently investigating five more individuals. And the Minnesota Department of Health has reported four cases of severe lung injury potentially related to vaping.

According to health officials in each state, patients reported similar symptoms, including coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue that worsened over time. Some patients also reportedly experienced fever, chest pain, nausea and diarrhea. In Minnesota, some of these individuals had to be hospitalized for multiple weeks, including stints in the intensive care unit. One Wisconsin man in his 20s even had to be placed in a medically induced coma

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Should you be worried?

Not necessarily — unless you’ve been buying vape products in or near the affected areas. That’s because experts are still trying to figure out what could be causing the respiratory issues, with the use of both nicotine and THC being reported. 

“Our disease investigators continue to gather information about the names and types of vape products that were used in hopes of determining a common link,” Wisconsin DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a statement. “We strongly urge people to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes. Anyone — especially young people who have recently vaped — experiencing unexplained breathing problems should see a doctor.”

vape pen shown with cannabis

The American Vaping Association is skeptical that traditional vape products — like those popularized by Juul — are at fault. “With approximately 10 million adults vaping nicotine each month without major issue, it appears much more likely that the products causing lung damage contain THC or illegal drugs, not nicotine,” an AVA spokesperson told CBS News.

While it’s possible that all these patients vaped the same products, “it’s also possible that as clusters become evident to physicians, we start to look out for things more,” Dr. Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, told NBC News.

Even if the underlying cause does turn out to be a bad batch of black market “street juice,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. 

Read more: Why vaping could give you cavities

What we know about vaping and respiratory health

E-cigarettes have only been available in the US for a little over a decade and, during that time, have gone largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, there’s a huge amount of variability in the market. Together, these two things make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the respiratory effects of vaping. 

That said, here’s what we know so far: E-cigarette aerosol generally contains fewer toxic chemicals than tobacco cigarettes and are considered safer in many respects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But vaping is not without respiratory risks — especially in people who have no prior history of smoking.  

When the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine analyzed all the available research on the public health consequences of e-cigarettes — more than 800 peer-reviewed studies — it concluded that, “studies examining the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on the development of chronic respiratory symptoms are completely lacking due to the newness of the product.” 

illustration of smoke-filled lungs

However, it did find “conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarette products contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances” like acetaldehyde, acrolein, diacetyl and formaldehyde, which have all been linked to lung disease. And that exposing lungs to these substances could potentially damage the respiratory system or worsen pre-existing lung disease. 

Although NASEM was unable to identify any research on whether or not vaping causes respiratory diseases, it did find moderate evidence of a link between vaping and increased coughing and wheezing in teens, as well as an increase in asthma exacerbations.

Bottom line: There are still a lot of unknowns, but preliminary research — and the lack of federal oversight — has health organizations like the American Lung Association concerned. 

“The e-cigarettes currently in the US marketplace have not been systemically reviewed by the FDA to determine their impact on lung health,” the ALA says. “While much remains to be determined about the lasting health consequences of these products, the ALA is very troubled by the evolving evidence about the impact of e-cigarettes on the lungs.”


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives. 

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