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One Dead In Illinois From Vaping-Related Breathing Problems

Vaping360 via Flickr
CC BY-ND 2.0
A sample of e-cigarette products

At least one person has died in Illinois, after they used an e-cigarette product that appears to have caused fatal breathing problems. The death may be the first vaping fatality in the nation.

The Department of Public Health didn’t identify the person, but said they had the same “constellation” of symptoms as more than 20 others who have been hospitalized after vaping. They’ve felt out of breath, they’ve been coughing heavily, even vomiting.

At least half of those people have gotten sick just this past week. 

The popular products made by JUUL and other companies contain concentrated amounts of nicotine and other chemicals. Some even use e-cigarettes to smoke concentrated THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

IDPH director Ngozi Ezike said the department hasn’t identified which products are causing the illnesses, but warns they’re all dangerous.

“We’ve just opened a box of really unknown possibilities when different chemicals and compounds are being used in combination with other chemicals and compounds," she said in a phone interview.

Though e-cigarette makers have long argued their products are safe and have helped people quit traditional cigarettes, Ezike said they're not.

“I would never say that vaping and e-cigarettes are safe," she said. "We know the dangerous effects of nicotine on young people. I did not think that we were dealing with a safe practice to start with.”

The Centers for Disease Control said it's investigating nearly 200 cases in 22 states. No specific product has been consistently identified in these cases, but an infectious disease does not appear to be involved.

In a statement, Ezike said that agency is sending representatives to Illinois early next week. Meanwhile, the FDA and others are looking into what’s causing the hospitalizations--and if any one product is to blame.

Little is definitively known right now, but Ezike says the Public Health department has an "on-going" investigation.

“We want answers as bad as the public does," she said.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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