According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospitals in 16 states have now reported 153 cases of serious respiratory illnesses in the last two months tied to vaping. In each case, the sick person admitted having vaped either nicotine or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
According to the New York Times, most of the sick people are adolescents or young adults who sought help for difficulty breathing. Many also said they were experiencing fatigue, chest pain and vomiting.
Those most ill of the patients have suffered serious lung damage, requiring oxygen and days on a ventilator. Some may have permanent lung damage. While calling for more study, the CDC says that vaping either nicotine or THC could be dangerous.
"E-cigarettes are still fairly new, and scientists are still learning about their long-term health effects," said a spokesperson for the CDC's smoking and health office. "Adverse respiratory effects associated with e-cigarette use could be the result of a variety of factors, including intended and unintended constituents of these products."
As we discussed earlier this month, several serious cases were first reported in Wisconsin. At the time, NPR reported on a study of Juul brand's flavored "vape juice," finding that the liquid contains flavorings and perfumes known as aldehydes. So far, it is unclear whether the aldehydes are safe to inhale, as some have only been rated safe to touch and eat. Some aldehydes form "acetals" when mixed with alcohol, as they are in Juul's flavored vape juices. Some research claims that acetals are irritating to the lungs.
The spokesperson for the CDC also expressed concern about other ingredients in e-liquids that may be dangerous to the lungs, including ultrafine particles which could damage the lungs when inhaled. In addition, there could be heavy metals, carcinogens and volatile organic compounds in the liquids.
No single product or device has been associated with all of the illnesses. In fact, the CDC hasn't been able to narrow down whether nicotine or THC vaporizers are responsible, especially since many of the sick people used both. The issue could involve a contaminant or something else that is unintended in the vaporized liquid. Or, this could be a harbinger of many more people getting sick after vaping.
As former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning, vaping may be less harmful than smoking, but vaping is not safe.