Summit County health officials are urging residents to quit vaping as a local user recently became ill.
E-cigarettes and vaping products have come under increased scrutiny recently after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported hundreds of cases of a lung illness among individuals who vape.
Cory Kendrick, policy and legislative affairs manager with Summit County Public Health, said Tuesday the agency is examining a case that may be added to the CDC’s growing list.
“We’re currently investigating one that came up over the weekend,” Kendrick said.
Health officials are still determining whether the person's illness was caused by vaping; no other details were released.
In an advisory issued Tuesday, the Summit County health department called on vapers to kick the habit.
“Residents are strongly encouraged to not utilize any vaping products,” the advisory warns, “especially those that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD).”
Nationwide, nearly 300 who vape have developed a severe respiratory illness with symptoms that include coughing, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea, chest pain and worsening difficulty breathing.
The illness is non-infectious, but may require intensive medical care. One person in Illinois has died from the disease.
Kendrick said vaping has never been a safe alternative to smoking, although many perceive it as such. Tuesday’s advisory repeats that information.
“We don’t know the long-term effects or really the short term effects,” he said. “We thought it important that our residents know what is going on.”
Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department of Health, said the agency is investigating 11 possible cases of the illness linked to vaping statewide. He said the cases are scattered across Ohio.
“THC and CBD products have been a common factor in many but not all [of the CDC cases],” Hurst said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Both Hurst and Kendrick said the respiratory illness development is so new that the CDC hasn’t issued exact reporting requirements it needs from public health agencies.
“We’re following the lead of the CDC on this,” Hurst said. “We need more data.”
Kendrick said reporting agencies need to send the same information to the CDC to get a handle on the problem and determine its causes.
“This is so new everybody is finding the best way to standardize this,” he said. “The CDC is trying to ensure that we get the same data and same facts.”
Cases tend to be skewing toward younger people, and that’s not a surprise to Kendrick. His research shows that young people in Summit County who develop a nicotine habit have moved from traditional smoking to e-cigarettes.
“We saw this early on as being a big problem with teenagers,” Kendrick said. “Our suspicions were correct. Just hearing from superintendents and parents, it’s a huge issue.”
The University of Akron and Kent State University both have campus-wide bans on traditional smoking and e-cigarettes.
Revere School District on Tuesday sent out an email to parents on the district’s efforts to reduce vaping.
“For the 2019-20 school year, we have installed vaping and noise detectors in Revere High School, Revere Middle School and the Field House,” the email reads.
The detectors, financed by a state grant, alert school authorities when a chemical from a vaping device is detected.
Students caught vaping will be removed from class and suspended.
In October, a new law will raise the age of purchasing nicotine products in Ohio to 21.
Hurst said there’s still a lot that’s not known about the effects of e-cigarettes, but there’s no doubt they aren’t a safe alternative to smoking.
He suspects new data will expose just how unsafe they are. Smoking research, he said, went through a similar process.
“There was a time where cigarettes were not considered to be a health risk,” he said.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjournal.