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Amid a national outbreak of lung injuries associated with electronic cigarette use, the Connecticut Department of Public Health announced the state’s first vaping-related death last week — the 19th confirmed death nationwide.

The Connecticut victim — who was between the ages of 30 and 39, according to DPH — died two weeks ago after being hospitalized for lung injury and multiple other medical conditions. Symptoms common to patients of vaping-related illnesses include chest pain, fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a national total of 1,080 vaping-related cases across 48 states.

“As a growing wave of vaping-related illnesses is becoming more prevalent across the country, I was saddened to learn today that tragedy has struck here at home,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in an Oct. 3 press release. “We are in the process of developing a comprehensive, effective response to what is becoming a growing public health crisis. But I cannot stress enough — the best thing for people to do is just avoid e-cigarettes and vaping products altogether.”

In addition to the death, the state’s department of health reported that six more patients recently fell ill with vaping-related lung injuries, raising Connecticut’s total to 25 cases — eight alone from New Haven County. As of last week, only one patient remains hospitalized.

While the exact cause of vaping-related illnesses remains unclear, a common link among most cases is a history of using modified vaping products containing THC.

“We are working with the CDC along with health departments across the country to find out what the specific causes of these injuries are to educate the public by providing the information needed to mitigate the risk of illness and death,” said DPH Commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell. “If you choose to continue vaping, you should not buy vaping products off the street or from another person, including a friend, or modify or add any other unregulated substances to these products.”

The CDC also recommends avoiding vaping products — especially those containing THC or those altered in a manner not intended by the manufacturer — while the investigation continues.

Last week, a state law went into effect to combat the nationwide epidemic of youth vaping. The law raised the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, a step many public health officials see as necessary to mitigate the crisis.

Roslyn Hamilton, the interim director of the New Haven Health Department, told the News that the department will act based on recommendations from DPH and Gov. Lamont. Until those recommendations are released, NHHD will partner with CT Clearinghouse, a statewide organization which works to inform people about substance abuse, treatment and recovery and other related topics. The partnership will work with schools and vaping supply outlets around New Haven to educate citizens on the dangers of vaping and limit underage vaping use.

Juul Labs, the producer of the most popular e-cigarette in the U.S., has faced widespread public criticism for its widespread popularity among middle school and high school aged students, creating a new generation of nicotine users. Juul has aggressively countered these accusations by ending the sale of their flavored products at traditional retail stores, strengthening online age-verification procedures and reducing the company’s presence on social media.

Additionally, Juul has emphasized that their products do not contain any of the substances connected to vaping-related illnesses, namely “any compound derived from cannabis” and “vitamin E compounds.”

Juul Labs did not respond immediately to a request for comment Wednesday evening.

On Sept. 25, Juul’s CEO Kevin Burns resigned and was immediately replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, a former Altria executive.

In his official press release, Crosthwaite voiced the company’s commitment to preventing further vaping-related illness.

“We must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate,” he said. “That includes inviting an open dialogue, listening to others and being responsive to their concerns.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Lamont and officials from Connecticut and New York will convene on Oct. 17 to discuss vaping and marijuana legislation.

 

Ako Ndefo-Haven | ako.ndefo-haven@yale.edu