While E-cigarettes and vaping have been touted as the best smoking cessation method ever invented, doctors in the Midwest are left scratching their heads over 22 recent hospital admissions.
Many of the nearly two dozen patients are in the hospital in three Midwestern states were suffering from severe breathing issues, believed to be connected to vaping E-cigarettes. For now, it’s unclear which devices the patients used and the E-liquid they vaped. Doctors also have no idea where the items were purchased or if other people are potentially at risk.
According to a High Times report, some of the patients used conventional E-cigarettes containing nicotine, while others used devices containing cannabis extract. As Dr. Emily Chapman, chief medical officer for Children’s Minnesota, explained to reporters, “We know there are certain characteristics in common with these cases, but we have not been able to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of the vaping habit or product or solvent or oil is causing the injury,” she said. While four of the 22 cases were reported in Minnesota, 12 came from Wisconsin and 6 from Illinois.
When the younger patients admitted to the Children’s hospital in Minnesota arrived, they displayed pneumonia-like symptoms. However, instead of recovering from standard treatments, their conditions only got worse. “They have progressed to have significant difficulty with their breathing and increasing lung distress,” Dr. Chapman said.
“They’ve ended up needing our intensive care unit and in some cases, assistance with their breathing.” At the same time, Andrea Palm of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services spoke to reporters about the situation in Wisconsin. “All patients reported vaping before their hospitalization, but we don’t know all the products they used,” she said.
One case in point is 26-year-old Dylan Nelson from Burlington in Wisconsin. When he started feeling poorly after vaping from a new cartridge, he went to the hospital where his symptoms deteriorated throughout the day. For the time being, no one knows whether the vape pods were contaminated with something or whether the issue is down to some other factors.
Dr. Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, asked, “Could it be that these particular patients were smoking something in common? Definitely possible. It’s also possible that as clusters become evident to physicians, we start to look out for things more,” she said. “The aerosol has heavy metals and ultrafine toxic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs,” she added.
While vaping is generally considered to be safer than smoking, the long-term effects of E-liquid on the lungs is a mystery. This is down to the fact that vaping is a relatively new practice, having been invented around ten years ago. Vape juice contains various food-grade chemicals like VG (Vegetable Glycerin) and PG (Propylene Glycol). And while these liquids are considered “food-grade” and are even approved by the FDA for consumption, that does not include taking them into the lungs in vapor form.
As the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids wrote in a statement, “These incidents raise serious concerns and underscore why the FDA should be reviewing e-cigarettes and determining their health impact before they are allowed on the market.” That sentiment is shared by many who want more regulation when it comes to the somewhat unchartered territory of E-cigarettes.