Illnesses in Clark County residents
linked to vaping
On Sept. 11, 2019, the Southern Nevada Health District reported the state’s first confirmed case of severe respiratory illness linked to e-cigarette products in a person under the age of 18. One week later, two additional Clark County residents were identified with lung illnesses linked to e-cigarette use. These individuals were adults ages 18 or older. All three were hospitalized but were recovering from their illnesses.
One of the individuals reported using e-cigarettes with nicotine products only. Two of the individuals reported using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products, and one also reported using cannabinoid (CBD) oils. All three individuals reported purchasing or acquiring their products from different sources, including friends, retail outlets, and through online purchases.
That the first case in Nevada was identified in a minor who had access to vaping products was an unfortunate reminder of how pervasive these items have become and the danger they pose to children and the public. While the days when conventional cigarettes could be mass-marketed as making you cooler, slimmer, and more appealing to others are long gone; these products are now appearing in new packaging, posing new threats, to a new generation of consumers.
When e-cigarettes and vaping products first hit the market around 2007, they were promoted as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes, without the benefit of scientific proof to support their claims. The products were also touted as cessation devices — again without the requisite studies or documentation to market their products as such.
These sleek devices also came in flavors and packaging designed to appeal to a younger generation. These tactics were of special concern in Nevada, where conventional cigarette use by high school students was once the highest in the nation — at 33 percent. In 2017, the percentage of high school students who reported using combustible cigarettes had dropped to 6.4 percent.
This progress is at risk of being erased by a surge in e-cigarette use. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that middle and high school students’ use of tobacco products increased from 2017 to 2018, and the increase is driven by the use of e-cigarette and vaping products. And more recently, a survey released by the National Institutes of Health found that rates of e-cigarette use has doubled among 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students. When looking at youth’s overall tobacco product use, the only change found was in the use of e-cigarette products. According to the CDC, 1.5 million more young people used e-cigarettes in 2018 than in 2017, and those who used them used them more often.
One in four high school students is using these products. This would be an alarming fact on its own — given that these products are introducing a new generation to the threat of nicotine addiction — but the recent outbreak of severe pulmonary disease and the link to the use of e-cigarette devices and vaping products have added a whole other level of concern. E-cigarettes contain harmful and potentially harmful substances that, in addition to nicotine, include heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and cancer-causing compounds. Some products are also used with illicit substances that may have been obtained from unauthorized dealers, and some are used in ways that can deliver products in higher concentrations than intended by the manufacturer. Tobacco use, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, can also increase the risk of disease and disability.
Because of these known health risks, the recently proposed ban on non-tobacco flavored e-cigarette products is a welcome step to combatting the rise in youth rates of e-cigarette use. Flavors such as “unicorn cake,” “strawberry cream,” and “watermelon” are blatant efforts to appeal to a youthful, and potentially illegal market of users.
E-cigarettes have never been deemed safe or a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes, and they are not intended for use by minors, despite the youth-friendly flavors and devices. The Health District will continue working with its local, state, and federal partners to investigate cases of illness that are linked to these products and urging the public to refrain from using e-cigarettes or vaping products.
The Health District advised people not to use vaping products and e-cigarettes. These products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, and people who do not currently use tobacco products. People who currently use tobacco products who wish to quit smoking should use FDA-approved therapies. Symptoms associated with the reported illnesses include:
- Respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain)
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea)
- Non-specific symptoms (fatigue, fever, or weight loss)
People who use e-cigarettes and experience any of these symptoms are advised to seek medical care right away. People seeking help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, can contact the Nevada Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-Quit-Now or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) from a Nevada area code.