Deaths linked to vaping reveal a complex array of inhaled substances

Deaths linked to vaping reveal a complex array of inhaled substances


JUDY WOODRUFF: The federal government today
warned Americans not to use e-cigarettes,
following several mysterious deaths linked
to vaping.
The Centers for Disease Control also said
there are 450 cases of a lung illness in more
than 30 states tied to vaping.
There are more questions now than answers.
And William Brangham is back now with more
on this mystery.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right, Judy.
Health officials say they’re still searching
for the definitive cause behind these growing
number of lung illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and others
say they do believe some chemical exposure
is associated with the sickness.
At least four deaths have been linked to vaping,
and a fifth is under investigation.
Allison Aubrey of National Public Radio is
covering this, and she joins me now.
ALLISON AUBREY, National Public Radio: Hi
there.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Welcome.
Hi.
ALLISON AUBREY: Thank you.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So what is the latest that
the investigators are saying?
ALLISON AUBREY: Sure.
Well, today, they basically came out and said,
we still do not know what is causing these
illnesses.
It’s very frustrating for them, but they do
know a lot more about who has gotten sick.
So, let me paint a picture here.
We are talking young men, average age 19,
more than 80 percent of the cases in Illinois
and Wisconsin men.
So these are people who are vaping THC and
nicotine, sometimes combinations.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, a marijuana vape pen
and a nicotine vape pen?
ALLISON AUBREY: Well, putting THC into the
vape, right, so vaping THC or other cannabinoids,
CBD, sometimes vaping nicotine and cannabis,
so all kinds of mix and match.
It’s very, very difficult to hone in on one
thing.
And so far, they say they don’t see one substance
that is linked to all of the illnesses.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, I’m curious, because
New York state officials seemed to indicate
that some Vitamin E substance might be indicated.
ALLISON AUBREY: Right.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Federal investigators are
not echoing that?
ALLISON AUBREY: Well, they’re looking into
that as well.
They’re looking at a whole range of compounds.
In New York, they say it is a focus.
They found a lot of concentrated Vitamin E
in THC vaping cartridges.
And, basically, they’re saying, these are
not cartridges coming from medical dispensaries
in New York.
These are black market products, stuff that
people are buying off the street.
Who knows what’s in them, but very high concentrations
of Vitamin E. And some people may think, whoa,
Vitamin E, it’s a vitamin.
Well, it’s fine to take as a dietary supplement
or as a lotion.
Not fine to inhale.
Ingested at high levels, when it makes it
right into the lung, can cause damage.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So possibly five suspected
deaths here, but lots of — lots of — hundreds
of illnesses.
How do these illnesses president?
And what do they look like?
ALLISON AUBREY: Sure.
Typically, what they’re seeing is that people
feel a little bit sick, and then progressively
have shortness of breath, chest pain.
By day six or seven, they have presented to
an emergency room.
And from there, it can get worse.
Oftentimes, they’re being intubated, or they
need help breathing.
Some have ended up in the ICU.
And they don’t know what kind of long-term
damage might be done to the lungs.
They just don’t know.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You touched on this before,
that there are commercial vaping products,
like Juul and Blu, that are e-cigarettes you
can buy.
ALLISON AUBREY: Right.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And then in states where
marijuana is legal, you can buy THC vaping
pens.
ALLISON AUBREY: Sure.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But then, as you’re saying,
there’s also this big black market of these
sort of home brew kits.
Do regulators know whether it’s the black
market products or the commercial products?
Or they don’t know?
ALLISON AUBREY: They really don’t know.
They really — they’re looking at a range
of things here.
The people who’ve spoken up — and keep in
mind, these are 19-year-old young men that
they’re asking, hey, you have just gotten
really, really sick.
What were you putting in your vape cartridge?
It’s hard to get all of the answers.
In about 120 instances, these people who’ve
been sick have actually handed over what’s
left of the vaping cartridge.
And that’s how investigators are analyzing
this.
And they’re finding that people have used
12 or 13 different kinds of THC products,
12 or 13 different kinds of nicotine products.
So it’s really, really complex and difficult
to figure out, is there one substance or combination
of substances that’s leading to all these
illnesses?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So the CDC says now, until
we get to the bottom of this, just don’t smoke
e-cigarettes.
ALLISON AUBREY: You know what?
They are recommending that people stay away
from e-cigarettes.
They’re saying, if you have been using them
to stay off cigarettes, turn to something
else.
Until they know what’s going on, until this
investigation points to a substance or a product,
they’re recommending that people not vape.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Allison Aubrey of NPR, thank
you so much.
ALLISON AUBREY: Thank you.

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