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Federal officials have launched a criminal investigation into reports involving severe respiratory problems linked to vaping, as the number of confirmed cases continues to climb nationwide, now including more than 500 illnesses and at least eight deaths.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an update on the vaping illness cases on September 19, indicating there are at least 530 cases of lung injury reported from 38 states and 1 U.S. territory.
According to the CDC, which has received complete sex and age data on 373 of the cases, nearly three-quarters of the cases reported are male, and more than two-thirds are in the 18 to 34 year age range. All of the victims have a history of vaping, and most report using e-cigarette products that contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but not all.
The national update comes as health officials from Missouri indicate that the eighth death linked to the vaping problems was reported this week, involving a man in his mid-40s. In addition, officials in Canada indicate that the first severe case in that country involves a high school student who was temporarily placed on life-support.
The outbreak has raised particular concern given the popularity of vaping, particularly with JUUL devices, among teens in the U.S. who are not old enough to use nicotine or tobacco products legally.
“Any tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe, especially for youth. Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to reduce the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students to protect them from immediate lung injury and a lifetime of nicotine addiction.”
In response to the mounting concerns about vaping respiratory problems, state and federal health officials are still recommending that consumers stop using e-cigarettes.
FDA Launches Criminal Investigation
On the same day as the CDC update, officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told the Washington Post the agency has been conducting a criminal investigation running parallel with the health investigation.
The probe, run out of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, is looking into the reports of THC use linked to the illnesses, particularly in states where recreational marijuana is still illegal. However, FDA Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller told the Post the agency is not prosecuting anyone for personal use of controlled substances in this investigation, saying they are more focused on the supply chain which may be delivering tainted products to users.
According to preliminary findings of a recent federal survey, more than a quarter of all high school students have vaped this year. In response to the epidemic-levels of use among the nation’s youth, a number of state and federal officials have also announced new plans to ban certain flavored vaping products.
Bans have been announced in Michigan, New York and California, and federal regulators say a national flavored e-cigarette ban is in the works.
Highlighting what health officials say is an epidemic, researchers from the University of Michigan published a research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine on September 18, warning that teen vaping has doubled over the past two years.
“In 2019, the prevalence of use during the previous 30 days was more than 1 in 4 students in the 12th grade, more than 1 in 5 in the 10th grade, and more than 1 in 11 in the 8th grade,” the researchers reported. “Students who had vaped nicotine during the previous 12 months and those who had ever vaped nicotine also significantly increased in each grade from 2018 to 2019.”
A growing number of JUUL addiction lawsuits are also now being filed on behalf of teenagers, young adults and other adults who indicate that they have developed a life-long nicotine problem due to false and misleading advertisements made for years about the vape pen, leaving them unable to stop vaping or progressing to traditional cigarettes.