Be HealthyHealth Advise
The Utah Department of Health recommends all Utah residents immediately stop vaping THC cartridges or “carts.” Vaping cartridges containing THC may contain chemicals or additives that are unknown, unregulated, and unsafe.
Public health agencies and healthcare providers continue to investigate cases of severe lung disease in people who vape.
"Across the country we are seeing an outbreak of severe lung disease in otherwise young healthy individuals all who have reported they vape," said Jenny Johnson, a public information officer with the Utah Department of Health.
As of Monday, September 23, 2019, 47 cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping nicotine, THC, or both have been reported in Utah, with an additional 22 potential cases being investigated.
Ninety percent of the Utah cases self-reported vaping THC and 60% self-reported vaping nicotine. Similar cases have been reported across the country.
New cases are being reported weekly, and public health agencies are still unsure of exactly what is causing these illnesses.
Laboratory testing has shown that 90% of the THC cartridges used by patients in Utah contained Vitamin E acetate, a known cutting agent. The samples containing nicotine have not shown any unexpected compounds. It is still unknown whether Vitamin E acetate is the underlying cause of this outbreak. No single product, flavoring, or brand name is consistent across all cases. The fact that these are unregulated products being sold on the streets along with this evidence of contamination, is cause for alarm and enough to urge Utahns not to vape THC products purchased off the street, or tamper with them yourself.
"When we are seeing these THC products cut with Vitamin E, we know that they're contaminated. We don't know if Vitamin E is the cause of the illness yet, but there is a good indication that it is playing a roll in it, so we are again recommending that all Utahns stop vaping THC products," said Johnson.
Most patients experiencing this disease are younger than 30 years of age. Patients are experiencing symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fatigue.
"It is cause for concern because this is a group that is otherwise healthy and then they are having these severe health impacts and lung issues," said Johnson.
Other symptoms included nausea and vomiting. Most patients (94%) have required hospitalization, with some requiring the assistance of ventilators to help them breathe. While patients have improved with treatment, it is unknown whether they will experience long-term health effects.
"This is a pretty serious illness. We've heard that people are kind of thinking it's not that big of a deal, but this isn't like a cold or a cough you would get," said Johnson.
If you experience any type of chest pain or difficulty breathing after vaping you should seek immediate medical attention and let your healthcare provider know of your past use of vaping products. While this investigation is ongoing, if you are concerned about these specific health effects refrain from using e-cigarettes or vaping products.
Additionally, the Utah Department of Health does not recommend people use nicotine-based vaping products.
If you’re using e-cigarettes as a means to stop smoking, do not stop using them and go back to cigarettes. Talk with your doctor to find out which FDA-approved nicotine cessation product is right for you. If you are trying to quit smoking, click here for resources.
While, vaping has been promoted as a safer alternative to smoking, the CDC says e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
"Ideally though, with this outbreak, it's important that people know even if you think you have a safe product, these are unregulated products. They often have chemicals, additives added to them. We don't know what they are and we don't know the health effects, so they are unsafe," said Johnson.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory which said e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless. The aerosol users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can potentially expose both users and bystanders to harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.
More than 1 in 4 American youth now use e-cigarettes. In December, 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that e-cigarette use rates among the nation’s youth surged 78% from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018. Data for 2019 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that the number of youth using e-cigarettes has once again increased to 27.5% nationally.
This is a complex and ongoing investigation. The Utah Department of Health is working to gather information about the products used, collecting samples for testing, and investigating new cases. Updates will be provided here.
"This type of investigation is very complicated and it's ongoing. We are learning new things every week," said Johnson.