The number of serious lung injuries linked to vaping has jumped sharply, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, with 38 states and one territory reporting 530 confirmed or probable cases of the illness.
That’s up from 380 reported earlier this week.
Some of the increase is likely related to reporting of cases that happened before the CDC alerted states to the problems it was seeing among people who use e-cigarettes. But others are new cases, the CDC’s deputy director, Anne Schuchat, told reporters.
To date seven states have reported eight deaths. “We do expect others,” Schuchat cautioned.
The latest was announced Thursday by health officials in Missouri. A man in his mid-40s who began vaping in the spring to cope with chronic pain was admitted to hospital with severe respiratory difficulties in late August. He died this week.
Schuchat also warned there are unlikely to be quick answers to what is behind the spate of severe lung illnesses seen among e-cigarette users, raising the possibility that these cases may not all be the same illness, or at least have the same trigger.
“This is a complex investigation and I don’t think that we should expect definitive answers imminently. This may take some time,” she said. “This may turn into finding multiple issues that are of concern, rather than a single product or substance.”
The first report of a case from outside the United States came Wednesday, when officials in Canada reported that a teenager in London, Ontario, had been hospitalized with vaping-related lung injuries earlier in the year.
The Food and Drug Administration’s law enforcement arm, the Office of Criminal Investigations, is contributing to the efforts to try to find answers, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, revealed.
The group has special investigative powers that can be helpful in cases like this, he said, stressing the FDA isn’t seeking to prosecute individual vapers who may have used illicit substances in their e-cigarettes. Many of the patients are known to have vaped THC — the active ingredient in cannabis — which is legal in some states but is not in others.
“These are trained investigators,” Zeller said. “They have been involved from the beginning because they have unique skills that will help us all get answers to the questions that we’re desperately seeking.”
Complicating this investigation is the fact that interviews with people who’ve developed the illness reveal that the range of devices, substance, and product brands used is very broad. No one single thing appears to be common to all of the cases.
A substantial percentage of the patients vaped THC, but many also vaped both THC and nicotine. And some insist they only used the devices to vape nicotine products.
“Our laboratory analysis continues to show a mix of results. And there’s no one compound, ingredient, constituent, including vitamin E acetate, that is showing up in all of the samples tested,” Zeller said.
“We need to see what common threads emerge as we do the product analysis, as the interviews with the patients continue and as agencies at the federal and state level put their heads together and try to see what is the primary cause and what might the other causes be,’’ he said.
Schuchat said three-quarters of the cases are male, and two-thirds are between the ages of 18 and 34, while 16% are under the age of 18.