Updated September 11, 2019 - 5:41 pm
The Southern Nevada Health District reported Wednesday the first confirmed case in the state of severe respiratory illness linked to e-cigarettes.
The unidentified patient in Clark County, who is under the age of 18, was hospitalized with respiratory symptoms matching those associated with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as a national epidemic associated with vaping. The federal agency is reporting at least 450 cases across the country, including six deaths.
The Clark County patient has been released from the hospital and is recovering.
“Identifying a case in a young person who used vaping products that should not have been available to them is an unfortunate reminder of how pervasive these items have become and the danger they pose to our children and the public,” said Dr. Joe Iser, the health district’s chief health officer.
Vaping products can lawfully be sold only to individuals 18 and older.
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the Clark County case was the first in Nevada.
Word of the case came as the Trump administration signaled its intention to ban all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes in the wake of a spike in teen vaping and the spread of the mysterious lung ailment.
No product information released
In the Clark County case, Iser did not provide information on what specific product or compound the individual had been vaping. However, many of the patients across the country reported recently using products containing THC, the ingredient in marijuana that gets users high, before becoming ill.
“If we know that information, and we think that information is important, we’ll release it to you and to the public in a press release,” Iser said in an interview.
“We’ll release everything that we feel comfortable releasing,” he added.
Late Wednesday, the health district said that the Clark County patient had obtained an e-cigarette from a friend but declined to give additional details, citing concerns for patient privacy.
The Nevada Vaping Association called for more information be made public.
“We urge the Southern Nevada Health Department to let consumers and the vaping industry know if the injuries are a result of nicotine-based products intended to be vaporized or marijuana-based THC or cannabinoids products that were homemade,” said Alex Mazzola, the association’s president.
The health district advises against using any type of vaping products and e-cigarettes. Iser said that vaping products contain heavy metals, toxic chemicals and nicotine, “one of the most addictive drugs known to man.”
“We don’t want nicotine being used by anyone, but certainly anyone whose brain is still developing, up to the age of 21 or 22,” he said.
Vaping is often marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, but Iser said individuals seeking to quit should turn instead to FDA-approved therapies.
The health district has not identified any other cases in Clark County that might be related to the epidemic.
In an advisory to the medical community on Aug. 30, Iser asked that doctors inquire about the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products in cases of severe pulmonary illness without an alternate explanation. He also advised that they inquire about the type of products and how they were obtained.
Flavored products targeted
When an individual vapes, a battery-powered electronic cigarette delivers an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. Vape customers can pick from flavors such as “Cinnamon Sweet Sugar Cookie” and “Virginia Tobacco” and select the level of nicotine, if any, in their product.
President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that vaping is a national problem, “especially vaping as it pertains to innocent children.”
“It’s very dangerous. Children have died, people have died, and we’re going to have some very strong rules and regulations.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar later said on Twitter that the administration will propose a ban on all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes.
I just announced with @POTUS and @FDACommissioner that we will be finalizing policies that will clear flavored e-cigarettes from the market. New provisional data show that youth use continues to rise rapidly, and we will not stand idly by.
— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) September 11, 2019
“We will be finalizing policies that will clear flavored e-cigarettes from the market. New provisional data show that youth use continues to rise rapidly, and we will not stand idly by,” Azar said.
“Anything that limits these products I think is helpful,” the health district’s Iser said of the Trump administration’s move, noting that the FDA no longer allows flavored cigarettes.
The Nevada Vaping Association urged Trump to reconsider his position.
“Flavored vapor products are why current tobacco users switch,” Mazzola said in the statement. “Banning flavors will simply drive the vaping consumer to higher risk or deadly e-liquid products sold on the streets or mixing products not intended by the manufacturer to be consumed using a vaporizer.
“A flavor ban ends the existence of 99 percent of reputable manufacturers and retailers.”