In Illinois, a man fell ill after using a vape pen and ended up in the hospital. There, his doctors determined that he’d contracted some sort of lung disease. A short time later, he was dead.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced the man’s death publicly today in a statement. The department warned that it’s seen reports of patients hospitalized with respiratory problems after using e-cigarettes double in the last week alone:
A total of 22 people, ranging in age from 17-38 years, have experienced respiratory illness after using e-cigarettes or vaping. IDPH is working with local health departments to investigate another 12 individuals. Affected individuals have experienced respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Some also experienced vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks before admission to the hospital.
The department’s director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, added that it had requested assistance from the CDC to help investigate the increase, and that a team had arrived in Illinois this week. “We are working with state and local health departments and FDA to learn the cause or causes of this ongoing outbreak,” a statement from the CDC on Friday confirmed.
According to the Associated Press, this death appears to be the first e-cigarette-related fatality in the United States.
It may be a bellwether as the cloud of consumer confusion over the safety of such devices continues to grow. The exact link between vaping and the disease that killed the man isn’t clear yet, but the increase in respiratory illness is part of a larger national trend. In mid-July, eight teenagers in Wisconsin ended up hospitalized for excessive coughing, trouble breathing, and fatigue. Two days ago, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed that they were investigating at least 150 cases of respiratory illness across 16 different states. Per the AP:
All the illnesses were in teens or adults who had used an electronic cigarette or some other kind of vaping device. Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. So far infectious diseases have been ruled out.
As Fast Company has reported, one of the main drivers behind the high rates of adoption among young people is that e-cigs are being marketed more like candy than nicotine delivery products, with flavors like mint, fruit, and chocolate. Roughly 1 in 5 high school students vape, according to CDC data, and that number increased by nearly 80% between 2017 and 2018.
“CDC has been warning about the identified and potential dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping since these devices first appeared,” said CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield the agency’s brief statement on Friday afternoon. “E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”