The E-Cigarette Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state health departments are currently investigating hundreds of cases of vaping-related illnesses across the country. Vaping has been linked to at least 18 deaths, but the investigations have yet to pinpoint a single ingredient or product as the cause of the illnesses. In addition to the health risks posed by inhaling the vapor, e-cigarette and vape device batteries have been reported to catch fire and cause severe injuries and death

E-cigarettes refer to a group of products that users insert a cartridge into. The cartridge contains liquid nicotine, which when heated, creates a vapor that users inhale. Millions of Americans reportedly use e-cigarettes, and in 2018 more than 3.6 million U.S. middle and high school students reported that they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to the CDC. 

In August, the Washington Post reported that state and federal health officials were investigating approximately 100 cases of lung illnesses that they believed were linked to vaping and e-cigarette use. Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, believes that these illnesses are linked to vaping “home brews” or “street vapes” that contain THC or illegal drugs, rather than the nicotine found in commercially available e-cigarettes. 

Patients who have been treated for these diseases initially presented with symptoms that appeared manageable and were consistent with viral infections or pneumonia, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. However, they would deteriorate despite treatment with antibiotics and oxygen. Some went into respiratory failure and required ventilators. On August 23, Illinois officials reported the first vaping related death in the United States. 

While most people believe that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, they still pose health risks. Although there are fewer chemicals and toxic substances present in e-cigarettes, they contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Additionally, users have been known to use the products to smoke “home brews,” which may contain other harmful ingredients. 

Due to the recent emergence of e-cigarettes, there is little research available on the long-term effects of using the devices. But, in light of recent cases, several states have issued health warnings about the devices, as well as temporary bans on the use of flavored vapes, and Massachusetts has issued a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products.