Teen Vaping Declines

FILE - In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago. A large government survey released Thursday, June 15, 2017, suggests the number of U.S. high school and middle school students using electronic cigarettes fell to 2.2 million last year, from 3 million the year before. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Three cases of illness in Delaware possibly related to use of e-cigarette products are among those in 33 states where public health officials are now closely examining the use of such products and their relation to severe pulmonary diseases popping up across the country. 

The Delaware Division of Public Health announced Monday the state had no confirmed cases, but was investigating three for their possible connection to the use of electronic cigarette products. There were more than 450 possible cases of lung illness nationwide as of Friday, September 6, 2019. 

There have been five deaths confirmed to be related to the outbreak, though none in Delaware. In Delaware County, doctors said teen Eddie Sullivan nearly died from vaping.

“The rising number of lung illnesses across the country that are associated with the use of e-cigarette products is incredibly alarming,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “We strongly encourage individuals, especially youth, to avoid using e-cigarette products. I cannot stress this point strongly enough – these illnesses can be life-threatening.” 

State lawmakers seek to ban flavored e-cigarettes

State Rep. Deb Heffernan is calling vaping among teens and youth an "epidemic."

"We're already seeing reports of kids in our area becoming ill and having serious lung issues," she said. "It's dangerous."

When the legislature reconvenes in January, she, along with fellow lawmakers, Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown and Rep. Krista Griffith plans to introduce legislation that would ban flavored e-cigarettes. She said ads target teens.

"I think that is what the media and the advertisers have been trying to sell it as, that it is safer [than smoking cigarettes], and as we can see, it does have safety concerns associated with it," she said. "I feel like this is the playbook that they started with actual cigarettes back many years ago, and now, they're following their same playbook with e-cigarettes and youth, magazines, films, and everything."

Delaware raised the age to buy e-cigarettes to 21 through the Clean Indoor Air Act last year. Michigan became the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes, and Heffernan is hoping Delaware follows in its footsteps.

"The ban on flavors will make it less attractive to kids, and we also have seen adverse effects, like lung effects, and actually serious illnesses related to vaping that may be related to contaminants in the flavoring," she told WDEL.

She's expecting to see widespread support among fellow lawmakers for the legislation.

"Adding e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act did a lot to keep people from exposing others and to make it less normative to be in a public setting and e-smoke, but it's still getting in the hands of young people, they're seeing in schools, they're seeing it all over, and it's definitely an epidemic and a crisis," she said.

She said the state could also take a look at banning e-cigarette and vaping ads.

"Kids are doing it, it's marketed in print, in magazines, and everywhere that now you're not allowed to advertise cigarettes but they are advertising these vape products," she said. "I think that we are going to look at all kinds of ideas that can help stem this epidemic and health crisis."

CDC says disease has remained a mystery

The CDC launched an investigation into the mysterious lung illness on August 1, 2019, and has stated aerosol in e-cigarettes contains harmful substances. It is working closely with the FDA during its investigation. The DPH said more research on the long-term impacts of these kinds of products is paramount. 

No evidence of infectious disease has been identified in any of these patients and, though many of the patients have reported using cannabinoid products with THC, no specific substance has been linked to all such cases. 

Symptoms include respiratory issues like coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain, and are often preceded by gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, or non-specific symptoms like fatigue, fever, or weight loss, and can develop over days or weeks. Fever, tachycardia, and elevated white blood cell count have been reported "in the absence of an identifiable infectious disease," officials said. 

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