The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has reported that eight teenagers were hospitalized during the month of July with serious damage to their lungs. The DHS reports that the severe pulmonary disease, which includes cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue appears to be linked to vaping. The teenagers, who hailed from Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Winnebago counties presented with respiratory symptoms that appeared to worsen over a period of days or weeks, and eventually became severe enough to warrant hospitalization. The symptoms, which were mild to begin with, eventually included fevers, pleuritic chest pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Chest radiographs and CT scans conducted on the adolescents revealed abnormalities in both lungs. The Wisconsin DHS is currently conducting an investigation into the possible causes of the illnesses, but all patients reported vaping in the weeks and months prior to their hospital admission (though the names of the products used remain unknown). None of the teens tested positive for any infectious diseases. The Wisconsin DHS is also urging physicians who may have patients reporting similar symptoms to contact the DHS.
While the DHS is continuing an investigation into the root cause, Dr. Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, stated at a press conference that the hospital suspects the injuries were caused by vaping. The symptomatic teens were all admitted to Children’s for treatment.
Vaping is a practice that is becoming increasingly popular among high school students across the United States. In Wisconsin, 11% of middle schoolers have tried electronic tobacco products, while 4% report current use; 32% of high schoolers have tried e-cigarettes and 20% consider themselves current users. According to the Surgeon General, vaping among US middle and high school students increased 900% between 2011 and 2015.
Electronic tobacco products are relatively new to the market, meaning that their long-term health effects have not been adequately studied. The CDC has found that the liquid inside e-cigarettes can contain nicotine (even in products that claim to be nicotine-free), volatile organic compounds, ultrafine particles, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals (such as nickel, tin, and lead), and flavoring components, such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease. The CDC states that e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
In addition to the health risks, components of e-cigarettes have demonstrated other risks. Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused fires and explosions, some of which have resulted in serious injuries. Most explosions happened when the e-cigarette batteries were being charged.
Some governments are taking action in an attempt to halt the rate of vaping among teens. In June, the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the city. Juul Labs, the biggest producer of e-cigarettes in the US, maintains corporate headquarters in San Fransisco and was staunchly opposed to the ban.