Health officials are warning people to stop using electronic cigarettes after a third person died from a vaping-related illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Friday that the number of severe respiratory illnesses under its investigation on the risks of vaping has risen to 450 in 33 states, compared 215 reported last week by the agency.
“While the investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” the CDC said.
The Indiana health department on Friday confirmed the death of one resident resulting from severe lung injury.
Despite being marketed as a way to help chronic cigarette smokers bridge from smoking cigarettes and ultimately quitting, e-cigarettes are viewed with suspicion in the medical world.
Dr. Daniel Sterman, director of Pulmonary Medicine at NYU Langone Health, said it is still controversial whether e-cigarettes are safer than ordinary cigarettes.
At the same time, these products are creating new nicotine addicts, as vaping, especially flavored e-cigarettes, is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers who are more vulnerable to the risks they may pose.
“It creates a lot of uncertainty,” Dr. Sterman told NTD, “especially the fact that young people are doing this at a time when their bodies are developing, when their lungs are susceptible to damage, when they may not have the ability to correct this damage.”
“We really don’t know what the long term effect can be,” he said.
CDC said the symptoms so far include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and vomiting. But health officials in Illinois and Oregan have reported cases of deaths related to e-cigarette use.
Dr. Sterman said although there has only been a smattering of cases so far of young people ending up in the intensive care unit, he worries that we will see more such cases, “I think it’s frightening.”
He said one of the reasons for the prevalence is that e-cigarettes “are so unobtrusive relative to cigarette smoking that you can do in a classroom, you can do it in a movie theater, you can do it a subway and almost not have people noticed.”
And for the same reason, users may unconsciously take in more doses of nicotine.
The state of Michigan this Wednesday, Sept. 4, became the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, citing the products’ appeal to kids.
But such regulations may have their limits.
“People who are 21, they can buy it and sell it to younger kids and they make a profit off that,” 16-year-old Phillip Fuhrman told NTD at an anti-vaping press event last month, “Also you can always find a deli or a convenience store that sells pods that you can give an extra few dollars to.”
Before society figures out what to do, Dr. Sterman suggests parents have an open conversation with their kids about the risks.
“Especially when their friends are using these products and the last thing they want is to have their dad come over and ruin their fun time,” he said, “but the reality is, if you don’t have this conversation, you are not gonna know that your kids are using them, again, the fact that they are so unobtrusive, the kids are not gonna have the cigarette smell on their breath and their clothes are not gonna smell that way, especially if they are using flavored products.”