SEATTLE — A King County teenager is the first person in Washington state to be diagnosed with a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes, Public Health — Seattle & King County reported Wednesday.
The announcement comes as President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration plans to ban non-tobacco-flavored vaping products as concerns intensify about their health risks and growing use among teenagers. Vaping products that deliver nicotine often feature sweet and fruity flavors as well as conventional tobacco flavors.
Nationally, at least six deaths have been reported and more than 450 cases in 33 states of severe lung illnesses. All are believed to be linked to a variety of vaping devices and products, including those that contain nicotine, THC and CBD. The outbreak’s cause is unknown.
State health investigators are looking into other possible cases, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer.
“We are actively looking at other incidents of illness that may or may not be connected to this outbreak,” she said. “We will only be reporting cases that meet the (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s) probable or confirmed case definition.”
The King County teen was hospitalized for five days in August for fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the health agency, and is now recovering. He reported using e-cigarette products for three years.
The teenager reported vaping nicotine with propylene glycol and saffron, according to health officials. The agency said its investigation is continuing, and officials are trying to learn the type of vaping device used, where the products were obtained or if other substances were used.
“E-cigarettes and vaping are not safe. Everyone should be aware of the risk for severe lung disease and avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping at this time until the cause of this outbreak is known,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said in a statement.
Duchin said one in four high school seniors in King County has reported using an e-cigarette in the past 90 days.
Gov. Jay Inslee last week asked the state Department of Health (DOH) for policy options to stop underage vaping, including a possible ban on selling flavored oils for e-cigarettes.
“We aren’t waiting for the federal government and (are) moving ahead with the governor’s request,” Lofy said. “As part of this, we are looking at what can be done through statute changes or executive order.”
If a lawmaker ever set foot in Future Vapor, a vape store and lounge on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, owner Zach McLain would tell the pol about the the 25 years he spent smoking a pack of cigarettes a day — a habit he gave up in 2011, when he started vaping.
“I feel great,” McLain said Wednesday. “When you smoke cigarettes, the common cold lingers a lot longer. Breathing is harder, exercise is harder.”
McLain isn’t allowed to tell customers that vaping can have health benefits. Despite e-cigarettes’ popularity among people trying to quit traditional cigarettes, Duchin notes that they are not approved as a smoking-cessation method.
“People who want to quit or reduce cigarette smoking should consult with their health care provider for effective treatment options,” he said.
Retailers are required to say their products contain nicotine and are “highly addictive.”
Unlike nicotine patches and gum, vaping mimics the ritual of smoking, “the hand-to-mouth,” McLain said.
That’s what appeals to Jerome Woody, 39, a software developer who smoked for 12 years before switching to vaping in 2013. Since then he said he “absolutely” feels a physical change: “I can jog again.”
Woody said he’s more worried about Trump’s proposed restrictions, and their potential to bolster a black market, than about the safety of the vaping products he buys in stores.
“He’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Woody said of the president.
McLain noted that unlike cigarette smokers, vapers can reduce the amount of nicotine they’re ingesting. With cigarettes, he ingested 2.4% nicotine; he’s now down to 0.6%.
“In that sense, it’s a weird business to be in,” he said. “Because, over time, we’re helping our customers not be our customers.”