Cleveland VA Doctor Warns Older Adults At Risk Of Vaping-Related Illnesses

A commonly used vaping device at North Coast Vape store in Lakewood.
A commonly used vaping device at North Coast Vape store in Lakewood. [Marlene Harris-Taylor / ideastream]
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The federal government is moving to ban flavored e-cigarettes, as a rash of young people across the country are falling ill after vaping.

More attention, however, needs to be given to some older e-cigarette users who are using products with synthetic THC oils, said Dr. Amy Hise, internal medicine physician at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

“It a very important step to remove the flavoring, but I think that it needs to go further, because many of the cases that we are seeing of the vaping-induced lung illness are not from the flavored e-cigarettes,” Dr. Hise said.

Recently, Hise treated a patient in his late 50s who became seriously ill after using a vaping device. The man was initially treated in the VA’s intensive care department after vaping THC, the marijuana compound that produces a high, to treat chronic pain, she said.

“He was quite ill when I saw him and I asked the question directly and he was honest about his use,” Dr. Hise said.

Dr. Hise said she reported his case to both the Cuyahoga County and state health departments because she wanted to bring this to the attention of other physicians. The man had seen other doctors over several weeks, who had not recognized that he could be suffering from a vaping-induced illness.

Across the country, most patients who have become ill from vaping have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, according to the CDC.

Some reported using THC and nicotine and others said they used e-cigarettes that only contained nicotine.

“He was using a brand that is available over the internet that is associated with other cases of this disease in the Midwest,” Dr. Hise said.

None of these devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and there have been no clinical trials to prove that the chemicals used in them are safe, she said

“So it’s a big unknown. It’s a black box,” Hise said

The patient that was treated at the VA is not currently among the confirmed cases of vaping-induced lung illness being tracked by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

There are currently 13 confirmed cases in Ohio with an additional 14 that are still being investigated according to ODH. None of the confirmed cases were in Cuyahoga County.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 380 cases of lung illness in 36 states and six deaths from six states.

The e-cigarettes work by heating a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. According to ODH, the largest group using these devices are 18 to 24 year olds.

Flavors Appeal to Young People and Adults

President Trump announced Wednesday, that the administration will move to force e-cigarette companies to take flavored vaping products off the market.

The flavors have attracted the attention of government and health officials because they are often marketed to young users, Hise said.

“The flavors are one aspect of the chemicals that are added to the e-cigarettes, but that’s not all the chemicals that are in there,” she said.

In many cases, people who became ill vaped both nicotine and THC, the CDC told reporters last week. Some reported using both THC and e-cigarettes while a smaller group reported using only nicotine.

While no one substance has been identified as the culprit, many samples showed high levels of vitamin E acetate, the FDA said in a consumer alert last week.

At North Coast Vape shop in Lakewood employee Chris McDonald said many customers have strong feelings about the flavored products.

“The vast majority of our clients are over the age of 30,” said McDonald. “And the vast majority of them used a flavored e-liquid in their vaping, and it would be extreme detrimental to older people who also enjoy those same flavors.” 

This product has infiltrated all aspects of our society, young, old, professionals, and others, Dr. Hise said.

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