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Increase in Vaping Related Lung Issues

  • September 13, 2019
  • KBA Attorneys
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Federal and state health officials are scrambling to uncover causes as the number of deaths linked to vaping and e-cigarettes continues to rise. The third death occurred in Indiana, with the fourth being in Minnesota and the fifth in California.

Federal Warnings Against Vaping

Federal health officials and medical experts are warning the public of vaping dangers and are discouraging the use of vaping devices in the wake of an avalanche of severe lung illnesses that are linked to vaping. The figures show 450 potential links in 33 states, with the number of deaths now standing at five.

At the end of the first week in September, the Indiana Department of Health reported that a third person passed away just hours before Minnesota officials announced a fourth death. In California, the Department of Health in Los Angeles County began investigating a fifth death and has proclaimed that “vaping is a probable potential cause.” The first two deaths, believed to be connected to vaping, occurred in Illinois and Oregon.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Dr. David C. Christiani published an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine in which he states, “There is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response.” The piece advises physicians to discourage patients from using e-cigarettes and encourages a broader attempt to increase public awareness regarding “the harmful effects of vaping.” Echoing that call, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials held a briefing in which Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman advised, “While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products.”

Increased Use of E-Cigarettes

While e-cigarettes were initially intended to help an addicted smoker lay down traditional cigarettes, the acceleration of acute lung illnesses connected to vaping has caused deep concerns about the overall safety of vaping devices. In 2018, an explosion of vaping occurred among American youth, and a huge number of teenagers who had never smoked before began using e-cigarettes. Especially attractive to this age group were the sleek vaping devices manufactured and marketed by Juul Labs. They still dominate the market. According to a 2018 survey done by the federal government regarding vaping use within the past 30 days, it was discovered that 21 percent of seniors in high school had vaped during that time period compared to only 11 percent the previous year.

Because of the new wave of serious lung illnesses, officials at the CDC suspect that a “chemical” is likely the cause, but no single “device, product or substance” has been identified yet, per Dr. Meaney-Delman. In the New England Journal’s editorial, Dr. Christiani emphasized that it’s not clear exactly which substances are wreaking havoc, but there are “at least six groups of potentially toxic compounds” found in e-cigarette fluids alone. Further complicating the dilemma for health professionals, a number of the patients had also vaped hemp or marijuana extractions. This led Dr. Christiani to suggest that mixed-up combinations of chemicals could possibly be creating new toxins.

Earlier in the summer, there seemed to only be scattered cases, but that has now turned into a widespread, full-fledged public health scare, leaving formerly healthy teens and young adults desperately ill. The first case appeared in April in Illinois, indicating that the mysterious lung illness showed up before the mid-June time period that federal officials often cite as the point when the syndrome began.

More Studies on the Effects of Vaping

The New England Journal published an article about the Wisconsin and Illinois patients, it is reported that 98 percent of them were hospitalized, and half were admitted to the intensive care unit. A third of the patients required ventilators due to breathing complications.

The study involved two groups of 53 cases with patients who were “healthy, young, with a median age of 19 years, and a majority have been men,” according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s chief medical officer and state epidemiologist, Dr. Jennifer Layden. A third of those patients who were studied were below the age of 18.

Of those hospitalized, 84 percent had used a device to vape THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces a high. Dr. Layden reports that a majority of the patients also used a “nicotine-based product” and there was “a range of products and devices.” The journal article includes the possibility that vaping devices heating coils may be releasing metal particles that can be inhaled.

According to the Food and Drug Administration’s director of the Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller, there is concern surrounding vaping products that are jury-rigged by retailers, tampered with by consumers, or even mixed by users themselves. He specifically urges individuals to avoid any vaping products they can purchase on the street or make themselves.

Death Caused by Vaping

The Indiana patient who died on September 6 was a male, age 65, who already had a history of lung illness. The acute lung injury that caused his death, however, is linked to “vaping illicit THC products,” per state officials.

At a news conference that was held after the vaping-linked death, a health officer with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Dr. Muntu Davis, said the deceased was “an older adult with chronic underlying health conditions,” but “it is clearly believed that vaping is a probable potential cause.” Dr Davis advises, “If you don’t have to vape, don’t do it right now. It’s wise to stay away from this until we understand what the implications are.”

Symptoms showing up in individuals coming to hospital emergency rooms include high fever and shortness of breath after having flu-like symptoms for several days. A 21-year-old man in Utah had such critical lung damage that he had to be connected to a machine that would pump oxygen straight into his bloodstream after a ventilator failed to provide adequate breathing assistance.

According to Dr. Sean J. Callahan, a University of Utah pulmonologist and critical care specialist, the fluid from this patient’s lungs contained a substance that appeared to be some sort of debris put off by his lung tissue breaking down. Dr. Callahan notes, “We were flying in the dark with this kid. I thought he was going to die. I kept thinking, his parents were there. If this were me and my wife, how crushed we would be for something that is completely avoidable. I worry that these products are really geared toward young people and kids, and we need a call to ban these things. That’s my call to action as a father and a doctor.”

The young man survived and was released from the hospital two weeks later. There is no way to know yet if individuals with vaping injuries will fully recover or will have lasting damage to their lungs, per Dr. Callahan. He encourages physicians to take better histories of teens and young people who are seen with pneumonia-like symptoms in order to help find the real cause.

In New York, 34 individuals have become ill, and vaping samples taken from eight of the cases show there are high levels of vitamin E acetate. However, the federal government examined more than 100 vaping samples and did not find vitamin E acetate. These results help show the difficulty in pinpointing the exact causes of serious lung illnesses.           

File an E-cigarette Lawsuit

If you or a loved one has suffered lung illness due to the use of e-cigarettes and vaping, contact KBA Attorneys today. Our product liability lawyers have years of combined experience in dealing with large corporations who have sold dangerous products to innocent consumers. You may be eligible to file a claim such as a Juul lawsuit. Contact us today. 


Matt Richtel and Denise Grady. “Cases of Vaping-Related Lung Illness Surge, Health Officials Say”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/health/third-death-vaping-related-disease.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share. Accessed September 9, 2019.