5th vaping-related death, health officials warn about e-cigarette use

MEDFORD, Ore. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaping-related illnesses have sickened more than 450 people across 33 states.

Health officials across the country are scrambling to find out what’s causing people to struggle to breathe.  For now, they’re advising people to stay away from the product until they know what’s causing people to get sick.

“Public health officials are working diligently to figure out what’s going on but we’re in the middle of an epidemic that we are struggling to understand and it obviously concerns vaping,” Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Public Health Officer, said. “Until we figure what is the agent or agents that are causing this problem, people would be wise not to vape at all.”

As of Friday, five people have died from vaping-related respiratory illnesses including one person in Oregon.

The Oregon Health Authority is investigating the recent death of an individual, who died in July, recently used an e-cigarette containing cannabis purchased from a cannabis dispensary, OHA wrote in a press release.

“In this case, we’re trying to get samples of the products or devices that this person used and send those to the FDA,” Dr. Tom Jeanne, OHA Deputy Health Officer, said. “We’re working tirelessly along with the CDC and the FDA to really get to the bottom of this and we hope to have answers before too long.”

While state and federal officials are still investigating, people are taking notice.

“I don’t personally vape but I know it’s a trendy thing for kids now especially with the Juuls and it’s easily accessible,” Travis Haven, Ashland resident, said.

“It’s definitely a problem and kids our age probably shouldn’t be doing it,” Dean Wikander, high school student, said.

NBC5 News spoke with people who vape and they said in fact it’s better than the alternative.

“It’s just stress relief, I need it sometimes,” Brandon Buccina, e-cigarette user, said.

“Vaping is an amazing tool and it helped me quit smoking cigarettes,” Ben Tayson, e-cigarette user, said. “I feel healthier, I live healthier, my doctors say I’m healthier. Researching it and taking the time to maybe go to one of the local shops and talk to the people there and ask them about vaping before just thinking its this horrible thing. I think getting informed about what it is, is what’s going to help,” Tayson added.

The CDC believes a chemical is responsible but it hasn’t yet identified a single substance, product or device to explain the illnesses or deaths.

“There are concerns for toxic chemicals and toxic metals that can be inhaled around these vaping devices,” Dr. Tom Jeanne, said. “In other words, it’s just not water vapor your inhaling with flavors–its actually aerosol that has particles and toxins and can certainly work in lung disease.”

While the investigation continues into what’s behind the illnesses, the CDC urges people to stay away from vaping devices.

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