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Columbia County health officials weigh in on reports of vaping illnesses, risk to youth

PMG PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Oregon schools are battling a growing trend of teens vaping on campuses., Wilsonville Spokesman - Education Oregon battles rise in e-cigarette use on school grounds Head in the cloudsThe Oregon Health Authority has now received reports of five respiratory illnesses that may be related to vaping, one of which resulted in death.

OHA reported on the death and opened an investigation Sept. 3. Earlier this week on Sept. 24, OHA increased the number of reported cases of illness in the state as part of a national trend.

There have been 530 reports of lung injury from 38 states and one U.S. territory, according to data from the national Center for Disease Control, and seven deaths in six states.

While OHA is still investigating the death of the vaper who died in July, investigators received reports the person had recently used a device with cannabis that was purchased from a cannabis dispensary, a press release from OHA stated.

"We don't yet know the exact cause of these illnesses — whether they're caused by contaminants, ingredients in the liquid or something else, such as the device itself," Ann Thomas, the public health physician at OHA's Acute and Communicable Disease Program, stated in the release.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that all of the reported cases have a history of e-cigarette use or vaping, and most patients have reported using products with THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, the CDC reports. Some patients have only reported using nicotine, while others have reported using products with both compounds.

In Columbia County, health officials have noted a worrying trend in the rapid increased used of e-cigarettes by youth. Michael Paul, the Columbia County Public Health director, noted that while 2019 local data is not yet available, the national average of teen use of e-cigarettes is nearly 1 in 5.

"The recent news focuses on severe lung illness associated with vaping. All cases reported a history of 'vaping' or use of an inhalant delivery system," Paul stated by email. "It's a concern because of the severity of the illnesses, the popularity of vaping among youth and young adults, and because, according to the CDC, some patients have reported that their symptoms developed over just a few days to several weeks."

Data from the most recent 2017 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey indicate that 20% of high school juniors reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Between 2013 and 2017, the use of vaping products tripled across the state, and nearly doubled in Columbia County.

While it's unclear what is causing the respiratory illness in relation to e-cigarette use, Paul noted that health concerns about using e-cigarettes go beyond the current national headlines.

"Beyond these recently reported cases of severe lung illness, there's enough evidence about the health effects and the risks for all of us to be concerned about the rise of e-cigarette use among youth and young adults," Paul added.

OHA produced a report for the Oregon Legislature that outlines a number of health concerns related to use of inhalant delivery systems, the need for further research on connections to diseases and illnesses, and the likelihood of increased rates of teens developing an addiction to nicotine or beginning to use traditional cigarettes.

Paul noted that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and that there are a number of free resources available to help assist people who are trying to quit using using tobacco or e-cigarettes.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Portland Democrat, joined Republican Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah in introducing legislation to regulate e-cigarette standards, prohibit non-tobacco flavors, and ensure delivery systems are tamper proof.


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