3 of 4 vaping-related illnesses in Iowa tied to THC, prompting more questions about e-cigarette use among youth – Des Moines Register

Three of the four young Iowans who experienced respiratory illnesses after using e-cigarettes said they used vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a chemical in marijuana, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Health officials reported more than 190 cases of severe respiratory illness among American teenagers and young adults who had vaped, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their symptoms, reported over the summer, include cough, fatigue, dizziness, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

CDC officials said they are investigating similarities in the growing number of the reports, „many” of which involved THC. Experts say the practice of vaping cannabis oil is riskier than vaping nicotine.

With the number of vaping-related illnesses on the rise nationally and in Iowa, teens and young adults are being warned of the potentially harmful effects of battery-powered e-cigarettes.

“We are asking health care providers to look out for cases of severe respiratory illness among teenagers and young adults, and ask about recent vaping and e-cigarette use,” the IDPH Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said last week.

All four Iowa patients, who were in their early to mid-20s, have recovered, an IDPH spokesperson said Wednesday.

► More: People are vaping THC. Lung injuries being reported nationwide. Why is the CDC staying quiet?

In Illinois, the CDC said, vaping-related respiratory illness is responsible for one death.

„This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. „Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms — including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents.”

Vaping was welcomed by many in the public health community, including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, as a potentially effective option for people who had unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking. People who replace smoking with vaping are twice as likely to quit as they are using other „nicotine replacement therapy” options, according to a randomized control trial study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February.

But kid-friendly flavors and marketing have drawn backlash, prompting the Food and Drug Administration last year to issue 1,300 warning letters and fines to online and brick-and-mortar retailers that allegedly illegally sold vaping products to minors.

The illnesses and deaths are causing e-cigarette advocates and companies to again respond to concerns of how their products affect young people. On Wednesday, Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns told „CBS This Morning” that the illnesses are „worrisome,” but doubted whether those cases involved nicotine products sold by the popular e-cigarette brand.

„CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil asked Burns, „Why not say, 'We’ve got nearly 200 people hospitalized with lung illnesses tied to vaping. We’re the biggest seller of this stuff. Let’s just take a timeout till we figure out what’s going on?”

„Well, I don’t know if it’s tied to vaping even associated with nicotine products,” Burns replied. „Most of the early reports have indicated it’s related to THC.”

The CDC says „many” — but not „most” — patients have said they used vaping products containing THC, the chemical that makes recreational pot users high.

After the FDA questioned the design and marketing of Juul’s small, sleek vaping devices, the San Francisco company said it would invest $30 million into research and the formation of an expert panel to combat underage use of its products. Attorney General Miller leads the research group.

► More: Vaping is worse with THC oil and 4 other things you to know

USA TODAY reporter Jayne O’Donnell contributed to this report.

Shelby Fleig covers news and features for the Register. She can be reached at shelbyfleig@dmreg.com and 515-214-8933.

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