INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana State Department of Health reported the state’s first vaping death. This marks the fifth death across the country in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oregon, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"This is a tragedy for the family involved and a great concern for us at ISDH," Pam Pontones said. Pontones is the Deputy State Health Commissioner and State Epidemiologist.
The agency said an Indiana resident died due to a severe lung injury linked to a history of e-cigarette use, also commonly referred to as vaping. The individual was over the age of 18, although no further details were available due to privacy laws.
The death was confirmed on Sept. 5, the department said in a news release, “as part of an investigation involving health officials at local and federal levels and in surrounding states.”
The state is investigating 30 cases of severe lung injury linked to vaping, the agency said. The majority of those cases involve Hoosiers between the ages of 16 and 29. Eight of those cases have been confirmed.
"We rule out everything bacterial and viral beforehand, before we're calling this lung injury related to vaping," Kris Box, M.D., State Health Commissioner, said.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 450 cases have been reported. Additional cases are under investigation.
According to State Health Commissioner Kris Box, many patients across the country have developed symptoms requiring emergency medical care. These are the symptoms to watch for:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
During the news conference on Friday, Box said there is too much to investigate right now for them to fully understand the cause of these illnesses.
"Because we cannot pin down exactly what that issue is, the CDC has basically given us guidance that if you're vaping, or using e-cigarettes, at this time you may want to consider not doing this until we can figure out what is happening," Box said.
Deborah Buckles spoke with FOX59 by phone on Friday. Buckles is a Tobacco Treatment Specialist with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.
"We don't understand what's in the e-juice, or what's in the devices that are causing these incidents," Buckles said. "So, we really need to understand that."
Buckles said e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to smoking because they "do contain nicotine and that they do have some harms related to them." She underscored how addictive nicotine is, and its harmfulness to adolescents.
"In all of these cases there has been no consistency among how long a person has been vaping, what device or e-juice they've been using," Buckles said. "Are they using a product that just contains THC or nicotine? There's been no consistency so they're still researching all of this."
FOX59 also spoke with Benjamin Anderson who owns Fog Life Vapor shop in Brownsburg. He said every product he sells in his store complies with Indiana's laws.
"People are black marketing THC cartridges to give to people so I believe that's why it's become rampant now," Anderson said.
Anderson said he still feels vaping is the best way to kick a cigarette smoking habit.
"I don't believe if you've ever not smoked, I don't believe you should vape, Anderson said. "I don't believe it's just something you should come into do because your friends are doing it."
Anderson said he has turned people away from buying vaping products if they do not have a smoking habit, or have not smoked before.
"That's not what we're here for," Anderson said. "We're here to help smokers get off of deadly tobacco."
The Centers for Disease Control said their investigations have not identified any specific substance or e-cigarette product linked to all cases. Many patients did report using e-cigarettes containing liquids with cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The agency considers the use of e-cigarettes to be a “rising public health crisis” in the U.S., with an alarming increase in vaping among teens.
Just last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a $2.1 million plan to curb youth vaping.