More vaping illnesses reported, many involving marijuana

FILE — In this April 23, 2014, photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago. On Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they are investigating more cases of a breathing illness associated with vaping. The root cause remains unclear, but officials said Friday that many reports involve marijuana vaping.

A King County teenager is the first person in Washington state to be diagnosed with a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes, Public Health — Seattle & King County reported Wednesday.

The announcement comes as President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration plans to ban non-tobacco-flavored vaping products as concerns intensify about their health risks and growing use among teenagers. Vaping products that deliver nicotine often feature sweet and fruity flavors as well as conventional tobacco flavors.

Nationally, there have been reports of at least six deaths and more than 450 cases in 33 states of severe lung illnesses, believed to be linked to a variety of vaping devices and products, including those that contain nicotine, THC and CBD. The outbreak’s cause is unknown.

State health investigators are looking into other possible cases, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer.

“We are actively looking at other incidents of illness that may or may not be connected to this outbreak,” she said. “We will only be reporting cases that meet the (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s) probable or confirmed case definition.”

The King County teen was hospitalized for five days in August for fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the health agency, and is now recovering. He reported using e-cigarette products for three years.

The teenager reported vaping nicotine with propylene glycol and saffron, according to health officials. The agency said its investigation is continuing, and officials are trying to learn the type of vaping device used, where the products were obtained or if other substances were used.

“E-cigarettes and vaping are not safe. Everyone should be aware of the risk for severe lung disease and avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping at this time until the cause of this outbreak is known,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said in a statement. “Youth, young adults and pregnant women should never use e-cigarettes or vape.”

The 2018 state Healthy Youth Survey found 22 percent of high school seniors in Yakima County reported using vaping products in the past 30 days.

Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked the state Department of Health for policy options to stem the tide of underage vaping, including a possible ban on selling flavored oils for e-cigarettes.

“We aren’t waiting for the federal government and (are) moving ahead with the governor’s request,” Lofy said. “As part of this, we are looking at what can be done through statute changes or executive order.”

The Liquor and Cannabis Board doesn’t know how many of the state’s 93 cannabis dispensaries sell vaping products.

DOH is asking health care providers across the state to report any patient cases that might be related to this investigation, Lofy said. At the same time, state and county investigators are poring over data from hospitals to see if any admitted patients are showing signs of the illness.

E-cigarettes and vaping aren’t new, and it is not yet known why lung disease connected to such devices is showing up now. Duchin speculates that acute lung problems may have been showing up without being recognized.

“What we are seeing now is probably a combination of things. We know that e-cigarettes and vape devices contain potential toxins and there are no long-term safety studies on e-liquids,” Duchin said. “I also believe that something has changed recently in the states that are reporting cases, either in the way users are using products or the availability of specific products that have a higher risk.”

Public Health makes these recommendations:

  • Youth, young adults, pregnant women, and adults who do not currently use tobacco products should not use e-cigarettes. The surgeon general’s Know the Risks website has additional information for youth.
  • Do not buy vaping products off the street and do not use these products while the investigation continues.
  • Promptly seek medical attention if you use
  • e-cigarette products and are coughing, have shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea or fatigue.
  • Anyone trying to quit tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, should talk with a doctor about evidence-based treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved medications. If you need help quitting, contact your doctor or a support quit line.
  • Young people can contact the quit line, or access resources at teen.smokefree.gov or the Truth Initiative.
  • If you are concerned about harmful effects from e-cigarette products, call the Washington state Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.

The announcement of the King County teen’s illness also comes the same day as doctors in Oregon said a death there in July could have been related to vaping.

The person who died in Portland had been vaping marijuana oils. The two doctors who treated the person said their patient appeared to be getting better right up until they died.

Oregon health investigators said the patient had bought THC oil from a couple of different dispensaries, but they have yet to find the product. Health officials in Oregon are investigating another case, and another patient has recovered, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

Seattle Times staff reporter Dahlia Bazzaz contributed to this report.