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Posted on: August 21, 2019

Kansas has multiple severe respiratory illnesses possibly related to vaping

Juul pen smoke

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing consultation to the departments of health in Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Indiana, and Minnesota about a cluster of pulmonary illnesses linked to e-cigarette, or vaping, product use primarily among adolescents and young adults.

As of Aug. 30, Kansas Department of Health and Environment has also received a report of four possible cases. The KDHE is asking all healthcare providers to report similar suspected cases via the Epidemiology Hotline (1-877-427-7317).

The CDC in early August received notification of a cluster of patients in Wisconsin hospitalized with severe respiratory illness potentially related to vaping. As of Aug. 27, the CDC identified 215 possible cases in 25 states and additional reports of pulmonary illness are under investigation. One patient in Illinois with a history of recent e-cigarette use was hospitalized in late July with severe pulmonary disease and died on August 20. 

Health dangers
E-cigarette aerosol contains harmful chemicals, such as ultrafine particles, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead, and other cancer-causing chemicals. E-cigarettes, vapes, e-pipes, and other vaping products are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and harmful to the adolescent brain. Nicotine can impact learning, memory and attention span, and contributes to future addiction to tobacco and other substances.

While many of the long-term health impacts of e-cigarette use are not fully known, the causes for alarm are mounting. As of Jan. 1, the KDHE has seen approximately 20 emergency department visits throughout the state for patients with a history of vaping and some of the above-mentioned respiratory symptoms.

The FDA also recently announced that it is investigating 127 reports of seizures and neurological symptoms related to vaping, particularly among children and young adults.

Additionally, recent data related to behavioral health risks among youth has shown that Kansas students who reported using traditional tobacco products, e-cigarettes or vaping are at an increased risk of behavioral health problems.

In 2017, 10.6% of Kansas high school students reported current use of electronic vapor products. In the same year, 4.6% of Kansas adults aged 18 years and older reported current use of electronic cigarettes. Nationally, statistics show a 78% increase in e-cigarette use among high schoolers between 2017 and 2018.

Local resources on vaping prevention

Local agencies are partnering to combat e-cigarette use. In June, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, LiveWell Douglas County, Lawrence Public Schools, The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence and the University of Kansas Cancer Center presented a public forum on vaping among youth in Douglas County. The forum included health information from a medical expert, personal experiences from youth with vaping, and a discussion about tackling this issue.

You can watch this video of the forum, and you can also see this powerful video first played during the forum of members of the Lawrence chapter of Resist share their perspectives about vaping and e-cigarette use among youth and what we can do to stem the tide of this dangerous addiction.

The video features members of Resist, a youth-led anti-tobacco coalition that is supported by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and the Boys and Girls Club. Teens who are members of Resist take leadership in holding community events, participating in advocacy against the tobacco industry, and educating their peers about the harms of vaping.

Over the past year, students in Eudora and Lawrence have received presentations from Resist members about the harms of vaping beginning in 5th grade. This August, staff at Lawrence Public Schools learned about vaping from the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and the Resist chapter during their annual staff professional development day.