After the Virginia Department of Health announced that one person in the commonwealth has died from complications caused by vaping, the VDH is warning about potential dangers of e-cigarette use. However, some other groups are cautioning that heavy restrictions could likely cause more harm than good for public health concerns.
The person who died was an adult from southwest Virginia.
“I am deeply saddened to announce the first death of a Virginia resident related to this outbreak. Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time,” the state health commissioner, Dr. M. Norman Oliver, said in a news release.
The VDH said that any person concerned about lung complications should not use e-cigarettes and that people who use such products should never purchase them off the street, modify them or add substances not intended by the manufacturer.
This is the 13th death that has been linked to vaping in the United States; 805 other cases of illness have also been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the midst of these numbers, several states have banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and the Trump administration has suggested a national ban.
Marian Hunter, a spokesperson for the VDH, told The Center Square that the stae of Virginia has already taken steps to prevent youth access to e-cigarettes. For example, the state raised the minimum age of smoking and using e-cigarettes to 21. The state also now requires school policies that prohibit tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from school grounds and school events, and the state created K-12 nicotine product prevention lessons.
Additionally, Hunter said that many advocates in Virginia and around the country have suggested banning flavored e-cigarettes as a way to discourage children from gaining access to the products.
“The severity of these illnesses is significant,” Hunter said. “The fact that children and youth are using these products increases the significance of public health concern. This situation is a reminder of the importance of refraining from the use of e-cigarette products, as well as all tobacco products.”
Not everyone thinks that more government restrictions on e-cigarettes will solve these problems. Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said that most of the illnesses have been caused by illicit marijuana products that vapers have put in e-cigarettes and have not been caused by the e-cigarettes themselves.
"In light of CDC data showing that the vast majority of cases around the country involve patients who have admitted the use of illicit THC products, the generalized warning issued by the Department of Health is incredibly irresponsible,” Conley told The Center Square via email.
“We know that there are potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of tainted THC cartridges out there in the illegal market containing thickener chemicals like vitamin E acetate or high levels of pesticides like myclobutanil, which converts to hydrogen cyanide when heated,” he said. “Meanwhile, tests by both the CDC and [multiple] state health departments have found no [contaminants] in nicotine vaping products. Moreover, there have been reports from treating physicians and the CDC indicating that patients have not always been truthful in describing their vaping history, as marijuana usage remains illegal in most US states.”
Guy Bentley, director of Consumer Freedom, had similar concerns about government action. He told The Center Square that millions of people have been using these products and have not experienced these complications until illicit THC material was used in the products. For this reason, he said that banning the flavored products would not solve the problem.
The banning of flavored e-cigarettes across the country shows that people are confusing two very different issues, Bentley said. This confusion, he argued, is serious because banning flavored e-cigarettes would likely create a public health concern, rather than solve one.
Although underage vapers tend to prefer flavored e-cigarettes, Bentley said that the adult population overwhelmingly chooses these flavored options, as well. If these vaping options are removed from the market, he warned that people may turn back to smoking or getting the flavored products illegally, both of which would be harmful to public health.
Bently said that trends do not suggest that banning the flavored products would decrease teen use. Alcohol and cigarette use among teenagers have been substantially decreasing in recent years while the use of marijuana has been increasing, which he said suggests that government laws have little effect on what products they pursue.
Vaping rates have also substantially increased among teens in recent years.