WARREN — Multiple national and state health agencies have strengthened warnings against using vapes, or electronic cigarettes, as more illnesses have been connected to the devices.
In Ohio, 32 cases of vaping-related illness have been confirmed — including one in Mahoning County — with 30 more still under investigation, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Vapes are e-cigarettes that provide aerosolized nicotine and flavors to users through a vapor or “fog.” The devices, which range from the size and shape of a traditional cigarette to bulkier MODs, or modified vaporizers, have been on the market since 2007. The U.S. Food and Drug Admin
istration only began regulating e-cigarettes in 2016.
Though the CDC said the specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries remains unknown, the organization continues to warn e-cigarette users against purchasing “off the street” tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or CBD oil vaping products.
The FDA also released a statement last week updating a consumer alert telling the public not to use vaping products containing THC, which is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.
“…while no one compound or ingredient has emerged as a singular culprit, we do know that THC is present in most of the samples being tested. Because of this, the agency believes it is prudent to stop using vaping products that contain THC or that have had any substances added to them, including those purchased from retail establishments,” reads the FDA statement.
The latest figures from the CDC indicate 1,080 lung injury cases associated with e-cigarette use in 48 states and one U.S. territory were reported as of October 1, 2019.
Eighteen deaths have been confirmed nationwide.
Of 889 patients with age and sex data on file, the CDC reports 70 percent are male and more than 80 percent are under the age of 35.
According to the CDC 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, an estimated 3.6 million U.S. teens used e-cigarettes last year, representing one in five high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers.
In a 2017-2018 Pride survey conducted in Trumbull County schools through the Trumbull County Board of Mental Health and Recovery, 11.4 percent of high school sophomores reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days — but Laura C. Domitrovich, the children’s program coordinator, said she expects that percentage to drastically increase when the survey is administered again this spring.
“It’s definitely exploded since then,” Domitrovich said.
Domitrovich said the survey, given every two years to 6th, 8th, and 10th grades, also measured students’ perception of risk for certain types of drugs. It showed a disparity between perception of traditional tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Sixty-one percent of high school sophomores rated tobacco cigarettes as a “great risk” to health, while 17.6 percent applied the same rating to e-cigarettes.
“I think at that time there was a lot of misinformation being spread,” said Domitrovich. “There were parents who didn’t think there were any chemicals or any nicotine in the cigarettes, they felt that it was just water vapor.”
She said now that deaths and illnesses connected to vaping are being reported, people are finally taking notice of the growing epidemic.
“Unfortunately it’s taken that to get some people’s attention,” Domitrovich said.
Chris Vince, owner of Vapors Dream in Girard said “epidemic” is a strong word.
He said according to CDC reports, many kids who vape say they were already smoking cigarettes. Vince also said the CDC reports survey people up to age 25 — a number he said isn’t really youth.
“Most people start e-cigarettes to try to quit their smoking habits,” said Vince. He said customer testimonials about successful quitting of combustion cigarettes cover the walls at his store, which sells mostly high-end vapor products. One customer said he smoked for 45 years and quit using strawberry flavored e-liquid, and has now been off cigarettes for three years.
Vince said he doesn’t sell JUULs, an easily concealable, USB-sized vape brand which is popular among teens.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine last week announced a long-term effort to curb youth vaping by supporting a legislative push to ban flavored e-cigarette products.
“We have two separate, but related problems in connection to vaping. First, we are facing deaths and very serious medical problems caused by vaping, the second problem is the dramatic increase in youth vaping — a 135 percent increase in high school students vaping since 2017 alone,” DeWine said in a prepared statement.
As part of the biennial budget, the sale of tobacco and vaping products to anyone under 21 is banned beginning Wednesday, which is 90 days after the budget was signed into law. A tax also went into effect last week, charging distributors 10 cents per milliliter of vaping products.
Vince said anti-vaping groups failed to mention they’re leaving “the original killers, cigarettes,” on the shelves.
“We’re villainizing a product that has helped so many adult smokers transition to a product that is so much safer,” Vince said.
He said in almost all cases of reported e-cigarette related illness, patients admitted to using “illegal black-market” THC products.
“We have over 1000 customers and we’ve never had an issue over six years we’ve been open,” Vince said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.