“Strong culprit” in outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries, latest on Oregon ban

On Nov. 8, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an update on the “multistate outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).”

The report stated that as of Nov. 5, the median age of EVALI patients was 24, ranging from 13 to 75 years old. 79% of patients are under 35 years old. All patients reported some history of vaping, but authorities struggled to identify a common link. 86% had recently used THC-containing products, and 64% had used nicotine-containing products.

More than 2,000 patients have been identified from 49 states and one U.S. territory, according to CDC. 39 deaths have been confirmed, with more under investigation. The median age of deceased patients is 53 years, and ranges from 17 to 75 years, according to CDC. Nine cases and two deaths have occurred in Oregon.

With the Nov. 8 update, CDC announced some success in their findings. In testing samples of fluid collected in the lungs of 29 patients across 10 states, CDC identified one recurring additive present in all samples.

“Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive in the production of e-cigarette, or vaping, products,” CDC said. “This is the first time that we have detected a potential chemical of concern in biologic samples from patients with these lung injuries.”

These preliminary findings do not rule out other compounds or ingredients as the cause of the outbreak, but Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at CDC called vitamin E acetate “a very strong culprit of concern,” according to the Washington Post article, “Potential culprit found in vaping-related lung injuries and deaths.”

“CDC continues to recommend that people should not use e-cigarette … products that contain THC, particularly from informal sources like friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers,” CDC said.

Lewis & Clark’s Associate Director for Health Promotion Melissa Osmond commented on vaping in light of the outbreak.

“Most young people that smoke cigarettes aren’t concerned about lung cancer at this point in their life,” Osmond said. “But this is a wake up call. It’s different … it’s frightening.”

Sequoia Snogrem ’23 shared her perspective as a student.

“The plus sides to vaping — which I believe is why nicotine vapes were created — is to get people away from cigarettes, possibly reducing lung cancer, although we don’t really know all the negative effects of vapes yet,” Snogrem said. “It could be better than cigarettes but it could not be.”

On Oct. 11, following an executive order from Oregon Governor Kate Brown, state agencies approved bans on flavored nicotine and THC vaping products. The bans included artificial and natural flavors, but did not cover tobacco-flavored nicotine products or marijuana-flavored THC products. The bans incurred a penalty up to $500 per day, per violation, and cannabis retailers or processors could face the cancellation of their license.

Snogrem thought the THC ban could reduce vaping.

“Especially with the THC flavors being banned, I think that (the Oregon ban) could be effective for sure,” Snogrem said. “THC pens just make it so easy, and so having less flavors … although it may not stop people from using them, it’s a step in the right direction, I’d say.”

Snogrem thought the ban might achieve its goal of reducing youth vaping.

“I don’t see vaping dying out, really. But I do think that having flavors less publicized or advertised could play a part in … lessening the appeal to younger teenagers,” Snogrem said. “I think it’ll make it less appealing to them, which is good.”

On Oct. 17, the Oregon Court of Appeals halted the ban of flavored nicotine products by granting an immediate, temporary stay on the ban. This ruling came after a number of vaping companies sued the Oregon Health Authority.

The companies asked for an immediate stay, asserting that “they, along with numerous other similarly situated businesses, will be forced to permanently close within weeks,” according to the court order.

The stay is in place pending both parties having the opportunity to respond, and a final court decision. The ban on cannabis sales was not challenged by the lawsuit, and currently remains in place.

Osmond commented on the probable effects of the ban on retailers of various sizes.

“I think … the retailers that are selling the product (would suffer) in the short term, if the ban went into effect,” Osmond said. “Juul, and other companies like that, are not going to lose money. No, this is a blip on the radar for them.”

Snogrem commented on the effects of the ban on e-cigarette companies.

“Because it seems to be a public health issue, I don’t think that (business interests is) a good rebuttal against banning flavors,” Snogrem said. “Although it’s true that they will be hurting these companies … I don’t think they’re going to completely go away, because people are addicted to nicotine … I don’t feel sorry for (the companies).”

As of Nov. 13 (the time of writing), the White House plans to release a ban on flavored vaping products this week, possibly raising the legal purchasing age for some tobacco products from 18 to 21. Details are, as of yet, unclear.

On Nov. 8, e-cigarette company Juul Labs announced that it would stop selling mint-flavored products due to news of the impending ban. Juul holds almost three quarters of the e-cigarette market share, and has been under heavy fire in recent years due to allegations of targeting youth, which led the company to pull fruit flavors in November 2018.

Osmond encouraged students who are looking to quit smoking or vaping to reach out to Health Promotion & Wellness for guidance.

“If people want to quit, we’re here to support them,” Osmond said. “People can contact our front desk and set up an appointment with me and I can help people explore, if they want to quit, how to come up with a plan for that.”

CDC updates on the ban are released every Thursday on CDC.gov. One new update was posted on Nov. 14, since this article’s writing but before its publication. Updates on the Oregon ban are announced on Oregon.gov.

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