2019-09-12 Vape

U.S. health officials investigating unexplained lung illnesses have recorded 450 potential cases among people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices within 33 states.

As the tally of people sick with unexplained serious lung illnesses climbs, state officials are advising Montanans steer away from e-cigarettes while county health officials work to help health providers spot any signs of the sickness.

U.S. health officials investigating the illness have recorded 450 potential cases among people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices within 33 states. Six people have died.

Officials haven’t found a single device or ingredient to explain each case.

Montana is a rarity in that it’s one of 17 states without a confirmed case.

This week, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services urged people to consider not using e-cigarettes during the investigation.

DPHHS director Sheila Hogan said in a statement there are a few potential cases in Montana under investigation.

“I’m urging Montanans to take note about what is happening in other states and respond accordingly,” Hogan wrote. “Montanans using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, should also consider quitting permanently.”

Symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting. Many of the cases involve severe, life-threatening illnesses in patients who were previously healthy.

Matt Kelley, public health officer with the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said he’s not aware of any potential cases in the county.

“The symptoms are pretty broad and there are health care providers all over the county,” Kelley said.

He said as the department receives new information from state or federal agencies, they rely on a county health alert system to get that information to health providers.

Nationally, most of the patients say they vaped products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Others say they vaped a THC and nicotine combination or just nicotine.

Most of the samples also included Vitamin E acetate, which has recently been used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Ron and Deanna Marshall, the owners of Freedom Vapes, said those products and ingredients don’t make it into licensed Montana vape shops.

“We have regulations through the FDA, but you’re always going to have people try to do a run around, do it in their garage, in their kitchen and that’s who’s causing the problems,” Ron said.

The Marshalls said while they’re getting a lot of calls from clients with questions, people haven’t stopped showing up at their shops in Gallatin and Ravalli counties.

Ron said he’s told clients to only use products that come from a licensed store.

“If a friend gave it to you, or you got it off the internet or made it, don’t vape it,” he said. “When in doubt, throw it out.”

It’s illegal for minors to use tobacco in any form. Deanna said her concern is that young people will continue to find the product illegally.

The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed nearly a third of Montana high school students use e-cigarettes. More than half — 58% — have tried them.

DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said any tobacco products containing nicotine aren’t safe for youth, young adults or pregnant women because it can harm brain development.

Dr. Thomas Ylioja, clinical director of health initiatives programs at National Jewish Health, said no matter someone’s age or where the device came from, little is known about the long-term health outcomes of e-cigarettes.

“The science on electronic cigarettes is very new; the electronic cigarettes as they are today have only been patented in the U.S. since 2003,” Ylioja said.

Based on that uncertainty, last October the Gallatin City-County Board of Health wove electronic nicotine devices into its Clean Indoor Air Act policy to ban using the vape products inside.

Freedom Vapes is fighting that decision in an ongoing case in Gallatin County District Court.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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