Vaping linked to six more illnesses in state

DOVER — Over the past month, six more Delawareans have reported lung injuries believed to be associated with vaping. The number of people from the First State sickened by electronic cigarette use now totals 17, including one death.

The state revealed the initial cases Oct. 3, urging people not to vape for the time being.

Vaping has become a major concern nationally in recent months, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 1,888 vaping-associated lung injury cases as of Oct. 29. Thirty-seven people have died as a result.

Although no single product or ingredient has been identified as the cause, the CDC says most of the cases involve THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, obtained through the black market.

“As we continue to learn more in Delaware and across the country, the safest way to avoid lung illness is to stop vaping,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “We will continue to work directly with the Division of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to learn more about what specifically is causing these illnesses, and to take action that will prevent this from affecting more Delawareans.”

Delaware has released limited information about its 17 cases, citing privacy laws. The state has revealed that nine of the individuals are from New Castle, three are from Kent County and five are from Sussex County. The patients are all between 15 and 65 with an average age of 28.

Twelve of the 17 ingested THC alone or THC in combination with nicotine, including one case the state said involved medical marijuana.

The deceased individual, whose age, county of residence, sex and exact cause of death have not been shared with the public, passed away in August after a long hospitalization believed to stem from use of vapes, according to the state.

Karyl Rattay, the director of the Division of Public Health, said in a conference call last month officials “just don’t know enough to really be able to take specific action, whether it be legally or from a policy perspective.”

Several states, including New York, have recently passed laws restricting vaping at least temporarily, and the Trump administration reportedly intends to do the same.

While any such ban in Delaware won’t come until the General Assembly convenes in January, some lawmakers are working on a bill that would place restrictions on electronic cigarettes. Rep. Debra Heffernan, a Bellefonte Democrat involved in the process, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Vaping indoors has been prohibited in Delaware since 2015. In response in part to a tenfold increase in the number of high school students reporting they vaped in the past 30 days from 2011 to 2018, lawmakers raised the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21 earlier this year.

Individuals who vape should be wary of any instances of coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever and quickly seek medical attention for health concerns. While any vaping is believed to be potentially dangerous, products purchased off the street bring special reason for concern.

Delawareans with questions about vaping should talk to a health care provider.

Updates will be posted on the Division of Public Health’s website at dhss.delaware.gov/dph and at the CDC’s site at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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