Within a few short months, young people who are perfectly healthy, with a clean bill of health, fall ill. Within an alarmingly short time span, everything changed dramatically. Nausea, fever, vomiting, shortness of breath, all persist before escalating into something much worse. Once healthy teens and young adults end up in the hospital, with some even requiring a ventilator. Mysterious lung disease with over 530 confirmed cases, spanning 38 states, 7 deaths, over the span of a few months. The one thing all the victims had in common- vapes.

Juul devices come in sleek packaging reminiscent of high-tech products. CREDIT: Richard B. Levine/Newscom/ZUMA Press) PHOTO: RICHARD B. LEVINE/ZUMA PRESS

Who is at Risk?

The FDA and CDC have stated that anyone who uses vapes or e-cigarettes is at risk, regardless of if their device lacks nicotine or THC. This is because the source of this is practically unknown. The victims all used vapes and e-cigarettes, but some contained nicotine, some contained THC, others a different type of vape liquid. They still lack a solid link between a specific device or liquid. However, many of the patients had vapes containing vitamin E acetate, often found in products containing THC. Despite this possible link, some of the patients only vaped using nicotine, not THC.

“Initial findings from the investigation into serious lung illnesses associated with e-cigarette products point to clinical similarities among those affected,” the CDC said. “Patients report similar exposures, symptoms and clinical findings and these align with the CDC health advisory released last week. While many of the patients, but not all, reported recent use of THC-containing products, some reported using both THC- and nicotine-containing products. A smaller group reported using nicotine only.”

This outbreak is scattered across 38 different states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The patients have a range of ages but are primarily teens and individuals in their twenties. Here in Houston, all three patients have been teenagers. The average age of these victims is 19, making the majority of them teenagers or young adults. However, those who have died were typically older. 

“While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” the CDC said. “People who do use e-cigarette products should monitor themselves for symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever) and promptly seek medical attention for any health concerns.”

Vape Ban Incoming

These changes have prompted action at the federal level, leading to the creation of the new Congressional Caucus to End the Youth Vaping Epidemic. This caucus is being led by U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat who is co-leading with the Republican Representative Peter King and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. They believe that the vape flavors, which were often sweet, are what drew children into vape usage. While JUUL insists that they never marketed to children, they have since removed many flavors from retail shelves. Currently, the primary remaining flavors are ethanol and mint, which are still popular flavors. 

“For far too long, e-cigarette manufacturers have illegally advertised their products and profited on the backs of American youth,” Representative Krishnamoorthi said. “I am honored to launch the premier forum in Congress for like-minded members, on both sides of the aisle, to work together to combat the growing youth e-cigarette epidemic and to protect children and teens from the dangers of nicotine addiction.”

Senators have announced plans for an increased tax on tobacco products and e-cigarettes, something that hasn’t happened in a decade. Michigan has announced its plans for a ban on e-cigarettes, but this has yet to go into effect. In New York, they have already enacted a ban on all flavors with the exception of tobacco and methanol. Overseas, India has announced a complete ban on e-cigarettes, hoping to stop the epidemic of vape usage.

“The usage of vapes in schools has reached ridiculous levels, especially considering most of them had never smoked a cigarette prior to using a vape,” Ryanne Mireles, a Junior at Klein Cain, said. “None of us know how using vapes will affect us down the line, making the number of young people using them so terrifying.”