The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning citizens about what it calls an “outbreak” of vaping-related illnesses.
That comes as 530 cases of individuals getting sick from a mysterious lung illness connected to vaping have been reported.
There have been eight deaths nationwide from the illness, including one in Missouri last week and one in Illinois a few weeks ago.
“We do not yet know the specific cause of these lung injuries,” the CDC states on its web page dedicated to the outbreak. “The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping products (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) or substance that is linked to all cases.”
Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health have also urged citizens not to vape.
“There is much more research needed to understand the short and long-term health effects of using e-cigarette products,” Pritzker said. “The safety and health of our residents – especially our young people – is critical to our future as a state, and I’m committed to using the best science to move forward in a bipartisan way to inform and protect our residents.”
An e-cigarette is a handheld electronic device that simulates the feeling of smoking tobacco. It works by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a vapor, that the user inhales.
Symptoms of the illness include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and abdominal pain.
No consistent evidence of an infectious cause has been discovered, so the CDC suspects the illnesses is caused by chemical exposure.
Based on initial data, most patients have a reported a history of using e-cig products containing THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets the user high.
Many patients have also reported using THC and nicotine, while some have reported using only e-cig products containing only nicotine.
The CDC has data for 373 of the 530 cases. Of those who got sick, 72 percent are male and 67 percent are 18-34 years old.
All reports indicate those who get sick vape heavily.
The CDC recommends those concerned about this refrain from using e-cigs.
Citizens should not start or restart smoking cigarettes instead and should seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms like those listed already.
The CDC also recommends individuals do not buy vaping products off the street or modify them, specifically products containing THC or cannabidiol oils because many patients have reported using those.
The investigation into the outbreak is ongoing.
To help in that effort, Prtizker encouraged Illinoisans who vape to take an anonymous survey on vaping habits. That can be accessed online at is.gd/understanding_vaping_habits.
Vaping become a topic of discussion late last year in Monroe County after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took historic action to curb the use of e-cigs by youth.
The Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities spoke out against vaping and Waterloo passed an ordinance that made possession of an e-cig by a minor a fineable offense.
According to the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey, 48 percent of 12th graders in Monroe County reported vaping within a 30-day period. That number was 24 percent and 10 percent for 10th and eighth graders, respectively.
The Waterloo and Columbia school districts said they have seen an increase in students as low as the middle school level vaping.
“It’s certainly causing problems for youth with addiction, parents who are having to deal with that or having to deal with their kids hiding it,” coalition chairperson Gary Most said of vaping. “They don’t realize the long-term, or now we see the short-term, impact using e-cigarettes is causing them.”
The state, too, made changes to the law, upping the age at which Illinoisans can purchase tobacco products, including e-cigs, to 21.
More government action may soon be coming, as The Washington Post reported last week the FDA has been conducting a criminal probe into the outbreak.
For Most, that represents a step in the right direction.
“I really honestly hope the issue starts being taken very seriously and both kids and adults realize how serious this can be and what a long-term impact it can have,” Most said.