Amid federal probe into ‘vape lung,’ dozens of e-cigarette illnesses reported in region

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Tyler Wilson, assistant manager at Unreal Vapors near Newport, Del., rings up an order for a lemonade-flavored e-cigarette fluid. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Tyler Wilson, assistant manager at Unreal Vapors near Newport, Del., rings up an order for a lemonade-flavored e-cigarette fluid. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Federal health officials are urging people not to use vaping products while they investigate hundreds of cases of severe lung illness and six deaths associated with e-cigarettes. Some are calling the pulmonary afflictions “vape lung.”

President Donald Trump amped up the heat further Wednesday, saying his administration will propose banning thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes.

While no deaths have been reported in this region, Pennsylvania has documented 37 potential cases. New Jersey has 3 confirmed cases and 19 suspected ones. Delaware has reported three potential cases.

Electronic cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating liquid that contains nicotine and other products, such as sweet flavoring. But this week, the American Medical Association joined the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and urged the public to stop vaping — at least until it can determine what caused more than 450 people so far to become ill. Authorities have said many of the cases appear related to a vitamin E extract added to cannabis liquid.

Vaping-related symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, nausea, vomiting and fever. Some patients need to be intubated to help them breathe. 

Nick, a Delaware vaper who did not want to give his last name, said the alarm bells have him concerned.

“It’s definitely scary,’’ Nick told WHYY this week before going into the Unreal Vapors shop in the town of Newport, a few miles south of Wilmington. 

“It’s something to think about and it probably will deter a good bit of people, but it still won’t hit as many as you’d hope,” he said. “And I get the smallest dose you can get. I’m trying to get away from it completely.”

That day, however, Nick bought a $33 bottle of lemonade-flavored liquid.

Unreal Vapors sells its own product line along with brands such as Juul, Space Jam, and Naked 100. An electronic screen warns buyers that nicotine is an addictive substance.

Assistant manager Tyler Wilson, who made the sale to Nick, said he is undeterred by warnings. He touted vaping’s benefits.

“Just like Chantix, just like the patch, it’s a tool to quit smoking,” Wilson said. “Now once you are off the cigarettes, you should quit vaping because inhaling anything more than air is inherently more dangerous than inhaling air. 

“So the danger becomes when you abuse it,” he added. “You have these college kids using the nicotine products to get a head buzz.”

Rick Hong, medical director for the Delaware Division of Public Health, stressed that while many of the reported cases have a cannabis link, “there are cases where it’s not related to marijuana.”

Hong’s office is directing doctors to report illnesses by patients who vape and is urging users to try smoking-cessation programs instead.

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