Fact Check: Vaping Death Toll Rises to 16

The current vaping epidemic has hit a new, unfortunate turning point with a 16th death in the U.S and an ever-increasing amount of hospitalizations. Hundreds of Americans are developing mysterious lung diseases with symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. While the specific chemical causing these illnesses is relatively unknown, there is a common thread along the line of ingredients in electronic cigarettes. Of the 514 cases that the CDC has data on, 76.9 percent of patients report using THC while another 56.8 percent report using nicotine. 36 percent of patients said they used only THC and 16 percent said they only vaped nicotine. Another CDC study shows that 16.2 percent of the patients are under 18 years old and 61.9 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. The high percentage of minors and young adults comes from their attraction to the fruity-flavored vape juices many of the electronic cigarette and THC black market companies sell. These flavors include bubble gum, green apple, mint, mango, strawberry and many others with a candy-like appeal. On the same note, electronic cigarette powerhouse, JUUL, has come under fire for marketing their products to underage clients. Its sleek, discreet design makes it easy to hide from parents, which is another area of attraction for younger consumers.

Courtesy: CPR News

The rise of vaping-related illnesses began in April, with the first death occurring in August. Since April, the epidemic has hit 46 states with deaths in 10 of them. With every death and case in the hospital right now, there is a history of patients using e-cigarettes and/or THC vape pens. Beyond the common symptoms of chest pain and nausea, more severe symptoms in critical cases include organ failure and total inability to breathe, requiring patients to be put on an oxygen ventilator.

One of the terms being used frequently in the medical community, especially by the American Lung Association, is “popcorn lung”. The name began over ten years ago when popcorn factory workers frequently became ill due to excessive inhalation of a chemical called diacetyl, which scars the lung sacs and thickens the walls, making the airways too tight for air to successfully pass through. Even after the outbreak of popcorn lung a decade ago, diacetyl is a chemical commonly found in e-cigarette and THC vape juices. Its buttery flavor is being used to complement flavors like vanilla, maple and coconut. Diacetyl is one of three highly dangerous chemicals in vape juices, alongside pentanedione and acetoin. A vast majority of vape users are unaware that these chemicals are being inhaled into their system because the FDA placed a major delay on a requirement of e-cigarette manufacturers to submit a list of ingredients. Until 2022, when the FDA plans on asking for a full ingredient list, the e-cigarette market can keep diacetyl, acetoin, pentanedione and a plethora of other harmful chemicals in their products.

With the dangerous chemicals present in nicotine-based vape juices, there is also rising concern about the presence of pesticides in THC cartridges. In states where cannabis is still a criminalized drug, many people resort to buying under the table weed and THC oils to avoid detection, which can lead to a plethora of health concerns. Many off-brand THC oil brands get by with using cheap but toxic chemicals in their products, such as avermectin (insecticide) and bifenazate (used in termite killer). These pesticides come into play when cannabis farmers are using non-regulated pesticides on their greenhouse crops, causing them to show up in the concentrate used in THC cartridges. The lack of regulations on what ingredients go into a “black market” product such as cannabis and synthetic THC oil is part of what’s harming the consumers who aren’t made aware of what they’re putting in their bodies.

Courtesy: abc News

Many victims are sharing their stories of battling their vape-related illnesses and speaking out against their old habits. For instance, 18-year-old Simah Herman nearly died in a hospital after experiencing shortness of breath, which evolved into not being able to breathe at all. Her chest X-ray showed white hazy areas on the bottom portion of her lungs, which was fluid-filled and inflamed from excessive amounts of vaping. Herman stated that she vaped a cartridge of e-juice a day, every day. After emerging from a medically induced coma and being hooked up to ventilators, Herman decided to start her own no-vaping campaign to prevent what happened to her from happening to others. The Herman family collectively states that this epidemic has gotten this bad because of poor regulation of vape and e-juice sales to minors and the marketing of the juices with sweet scents and flavors to enable addiction. Simah Herman hopes her story and experience help others kick the habit of vaping before the same thing happens to them. Herman states, “I tried it another time and then another time. It’s just remembering that you don’t need it. Like, it’s going to kill you.”

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