CINCINNATI — Days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first-ever vaping-related death in the United States, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital confirmed it is treating a patient “who admitted to vaping whose illness could not be attributed to other factors.”
The case is among at least 153 nationwide potentially linked to e-cigarette use, which Surgeon General Jerome Adams called “an epidemic” among American youth in late 2018. On the day he said it, about 21% of high school seniors reported having vaped within the last month, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Rates of e-cigarette use among all surveyed groups — seniors, sophomores and eighth grades — nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018.
At the announcement of the first death, which took place in Illinois, CDC acting deputy for non-infectious disease Ileana Arias stressed the link between the new pulmonary illness and vaping was not yet definitive, and health officials’ investigation remained ongoing.
However, they appeared similar enough and were spread over a wide enough area — 15 states, spanning the entire country — to issue a warning.
“In many cases patients report a gradual start of symptoms, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath and/or hospitalization before the cases,” Arias wrote in a news release. “Some cases reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal illness including vomiting and diarrhea and fatigue as well.”
Even before the Aug. 22 Illinois death, the e-cigarette industry faced growing scrutiny for its prevalence among young Americans. While e-cigarette manufacturers such as Juul marketed their product as a tool to help adults stop smoking, some studies showed many teenagers were on an opposite path: They got their first taste of nicotine through e-cigarettes and worked their way up to real ones.
E-cigarettes are also a relatively new technology. Juul, the most recognizable brand name, was founded in 2017. Experts stress the health risks aren’t well-understood for teens or adults.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital did not disclose additional details about the patient, their illness or the severity of their condition. Doing so would be a violation of federal privacy laws.