Hundreds more Americans have reported vaping-related breathing illnesses in recent weeks. Tragically, the death toll has risen to 13, health officials said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control say 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported. This is up 52% from the 530 reported a week ago. Illnesses have occurred in almost every U.S. state.
Over the summer, health officials began noticing reports of people developing severe breathing illnesses. Their lungs seemed to be reacting to a caustic substance. The only common factor identified in the illnesses was that all the patients had recently vaped.
It's not clear how many of the 275 added cases occurred in the last week, and how many are being logged long after they happened. The CDC has not released details on when symptoms began in each case.
The count includes only illnesses that have met certain criteria. But other illnesses are also being investigated.
One thing is certain: Vaping is gaining popularity among teens. In the last two years, the number of high schoolers who vape has increased by 77%. Recent surveys found that one in four high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in the month before they were asked about it. One in eight high school seniors say they vape daily.
Is vaping all bad? That’s what officials are trying to figure out. They have said in the past that vaping may be a less-deadly alternative for adults who already smoke cigarettes. Cigarette use is listed as the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. E-cigarettes can deliver nicotine—the addictive chemical in cigarettes—to users without the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) smoke. Using electronic cigarettes to quit or reduce tobacco smoking was thought to be a positive for adults who are trying to improve on an already bad health habit.
There was always concern that vaping would attract children and teens—and that concern is proving out in reality. Nicotine—no matter how it is delivered—is bad for developing brains. And now the mystery surrounding these severe lung illnesses adds an even more urgent level of concern.
The youth vaping trend is booming, and this month, that led to a backlash. President Donald Trump says the government will act to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes because they appeal to young people. Rhode Island, Michigan, and New York have already banned flavored vaping products. On Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts ordered a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products. Perhaps some answers to the cause of the illnesses and deaths may be found in that time.
At this point, no single vaping product or ingredient has been linked to all the cases. Juul and other nicotine e-cigarette brands have been around for years. But the illnesses surfaced only recently.
Health officials are advising people not to use any vaping product until the cause is better understood.
(This chart shows a decrease in teen cigarette use since 2011 but a dramatic increase in e-cigarette use among children from 6th to 12th grade. AP Photo via 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey)