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Montanans react to reports of vaping-related illnesses

Posted at 3:19 PM, Sep 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-30 17:19:49-04

People have long considered vaping a healthier alternative to tobacco-use. But when vaping-related health issues started breaking out, that idea blew away in a cloud of smoke.

Last week the national vaping epidemic landed close to home, when the first confirmed case of vaping-related illness was released in Montana.

Despite recent news that vapers have suffered severe illness and even death, there’s still skepticism surrounding the idea that vaping is dangerous.

The federal Centers For Disease Control & Preventon (CD) has stressed that it does not know exactly what is causing an outbreak of lung disease among those who vape. The CDC said that its investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) or substance that is linked to all cases.

The CDC said on Thursday that they have increased the number of cases of lung injury and deaths associated with e-cigarette product use to 805. Of those 805 cases, there have been 12 fatalities. The 12 fatal cases have been reported in 10 states, including two in both California and Kansas. The patients have used a mix of products and devices. Some report only vaping nicotine, others used THC, a cannabinoid product, some used only CBD and a combination of THC and nicotine.

Great Falls nurse practitioner Pauline Conway says e-cigarettes and other tobacco products actually impact health in much the same way. “They’re pretty much the same on the lines of what we think of them in relationship to health and their ability to harm both equally in the same manner,” Conway said.

But health-care professionals simply don’t have enough information as to why vaping is harmful to the body. “We don’t know what’s in ‘em. is it a single agent that’s causing the problem or is it a combination of multiple that are contained in the vaping products,” Conway said.

But they do know that any caustic inhalation taken into the lungs isn’t healthy.

Since knowledge regarding vaping’s role in the recent deaths and infections is so limited, Conway says abstaining from vaping is the safest way to avoid harm.

Former vaper Zeb Boos came to the same realization, after vaping for several months.

“For about 4 or 5 months I was pretty hooked on juuling. Anytime I had down-time, in between classes,” Boos said.

A University of Providence Senior, Boos said the social atmosphere influenced his decision to try vaping for the first time.

"It was just really prevalent at a lot of the social events that I went to. And I’d always been curious. So when a friend offered it to me I said, ‘Sure, why not?’,” Boos said.

But when the first report of vaping illness was released, Boos decided to call it quits. “That was when I stopped. I didn’t want to be another statistic,” Boos said.

The biology major saw the damage that had been done while studying the lungs for his core curriculum classes.

“I took anatomy and physiology last year as part of my core curriculum and studying the lungs and looking at what the lungs actually look like was a harsh realization,” Boos said.

Boos is also on the track and field team, where his lungs are essential to his performance. “I need my lungs almost more than anything. That’s how I compete. That’s how I train,” Boos said.

Last year he vaped during track season, and felt the physical effects of his addiction. “It did have an effect on my training. I would have a little bit of shortness of breath,” Boos said.

Now that he’s starting this track season vape-free, he can finally breathe easy and encourages others to take care of their lungs.

“It’s something that you’re ruining your lungs long term. And that’s an effect that’s probably not gonna be altered by anything you do...the sooner the better, in terms of quitting,” Boos said.

The investigation into vaping-related lung illnesses reveals that the culprit may be very high levels of vitamin E acetate in cannabis-containing vape products, the New York State Department of Health said in a press release recently. Vitamin E acetate is commonly used in skin care products and dietary supplements but it could pose a risk as an inhalant. The substance, an oil, acts like a grease coating a vaper’s lungs, a Bryn Mawr College chemistry professor told the Washington Post.

Samples tested at the department's Wadsworth Center laboratory showed "very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples." In addition, at least one vitamin E acetate-containing vape product has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing.

Vitamin E acetate is now "a key focus" of the department's investigation into the illnesses. Some of the products tested by the New York health department were flavored vaping products, which were recently banned in Michigan.