It shouldn’t come as a shock that the number of vaping-related respiratory illnesses and the rate of young people using the products are increasing despite warnings that vaping, like smoking tobacco products, is harmful to health.
But local health care professionals and anti-smoking advocates did not see a new set of problems coming. Four deaths have been reported so far and the cause of a fifth is under investigation. Vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes, is suspected to be the cause in all five cases. Hundreds more have been sickened by what is thought to be the same illness.
The first case of the mysterious lung illness, in Illinois, was reported in April. There were just a few scattered cases in June.
Now, to date, 450 people in 33 states have become ill. There are 41 cases in New York state, ranging in age from 15 to 46, according to Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health department commissioner.
Symptoms of the illness include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, fever, headache, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms can take days or weeks to develop.
What began as an alternative to tobacco products, and then a fashionable but risky smoking fad, has fast become a widespread public health crisis.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that subpoenas were issued to companies marketing and selling “thickening agents” that are used in black market vaping products and are suspected as a possible cause of the puzzling illness.
Cuomo also said he would direct the health department to mandate warning signs in all vape and smoke shops in the state, and will advance new legislation banning flavored e-cigarettes to discourage vaping among young people.
This is a good first step, but the governor and lawmakers have an uphill battle ahead of them. Just look at how many decades it took to raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco products. Anti-smoking organizations like Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties are valuable resources for getting the word out about vaping. Everyone involved in the vaping phenomenon has to prevent a new form of death from overtaking an old one.