Health Care

First Kansas death from vaping-related lung disease reported amid national outbreak

E-cigarettes might be trendy, but they’re not as harmless as they seem

Vapes and e-cigarettes have grown in popularity in recent years. Often advertised as a less dangerous alternative to cigarettes, medical professionals still have much to learn about their health effects. (Macon Telegraph)
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Vapes and e-cigarettes have grown in popularity in recent years. Often advertised as a less dangerous alternative to cigarettes, medical professionals still have much to learn about their health effects. (Macon Telegraph)

Kansas has recorded its first death linked to a nationwide outbreak of vaping-related lung disease.

The person had only been vaping for about two weeks before falling ill.

The Kansas death was the sixth nationwide related to the vaping illness, which has defied easy explanation. Hundreds of cases have been reported across the country, including six in Kansas, of which three are confirmed.

“It certainly turns up the volume for us locally,” said Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health Environment. His agency has urged people to stop vaping.

The person who died was over 50 and had underlying health issues, state epidemiologist Farah Ahmed said. The person was hospitalized with rapidly progressing symptoms.

Norman said the person had been stable and that “the only thing that changed was starting to vape, which was new to this person.”

As cases of the mysterious illness have begun to arise in Kansas, officials have sounded increasingly alarmed about e-cigarettes and vaping. Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement that officials are working to determine a cause. She urged people to be careful.

“Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, and please follow the recommendations of public health officials,” the governor said.

Nationally, no single vaping device, liquid or ingredient has been tied to all the illnesses, officials have said. Many of those who got sick — but not all — had been vaping THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its high. Many are teens.

Deaths related to the vaping illness have been reported in California, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois and Oregon. Minnesota health officials have said that state’s first known vaping-related death was a person over 65 with a history of lung problems who had vaped illicit THC products and died in August.

Health officials have only been counting certain lung illnesses in people who had vaped within the last three months. Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the body apparently reacting to a caustic substance. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting.

Norman theorized that the proliferation of illnesses now is related to the rise of the use of CBD oil, but he cautioned the answer will only be known once the contents of vaping solutions are known.

“I think that probably there’s been a lot of CBD oil used with people who wrongly think ‘Oh, gosh, CBD, if I inhale that in my lungs it’s going to give me a high,’” Norman said. “And in reality what it’s doing is a lung full of liquid, aerosolized material.”

Norman said the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies should consider a moratorium on the sale of vaping products until the cause of the illnesses can be determined.

“I think that I’d like to see our federal officials and law enforcement step up and say we need to pull these things off the shelves until we know what’s going on,” Norman said.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration accused Juul, a leading producer of vaping products, of illegally pitching its products as safer alternatives to smoking. The agency also increased its scrutiny of the company, telling it to turn over documents related to its marketing, educational programs and nicotine formula.

In August, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, along with dozens of other attorneys general, called on video streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, CBS and others to voluntarily limit tobacco use in their video content.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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