A resident of the state of Kansas was the sixth person to die in the United States of a mysterious respiratory illness related to vaping, state authorities said on Tuesday.
“It is time to stop vaping,” Kansas State Health Officer Lee Norman said in a statement, as public health officials scrambled to understand what has quickly become a nationwide problem.
“If you or a loved one is vaping, please stop,” said Norman.
The US government is probing 450 cases of vaping-related lung illness across 33 states and one US territory. But the nationwide investigation led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet linked the illnesses to any specific e-cigarette product.
Many of the reported illnesses involved vaping devices – including cannabis products – that contain vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from vitamin E that can be dangerous if inhaled.
The vaping industry has blamed the surge in the contagion on black market products, but health officials have yet to rule out any vaping devices – legal or illegal – as a potential cause.
“We agree with the FDA – if you don’t want to die or end up in a hospital, stop vaping illegal THC oils immediately,” said a spokesman from the American Vaping Association.
“If you’re an adult smoker or ex-smoker who vapes store-bought nicotine products, don’t listen to the activists who would rather you inhale deadly smoke than vape.”
Symptoms among the reported cases included shortness of breath, fever, cough and vomiting. Additional signs have included headache, dizziness and chest pain.
To date, Kansas has six cases associated with the outbreak. Health officials disclosed that the individual who died was over the age of 50 and had a history of underlying health issues, according to the statement. No other information was provided, to protect patient confidentiality.
“Our sympathies go out to the family of the person who died,” Governor Laura Kelly said in the statement.
“I urge Kansans to be careful,” she added. “Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, and please follow the recommendations of public health officials.”
The American Medical Association on Monday urged Americans to stop using electronic cigarettes of any sort until scientists have a better handle on the illnesses. The recommendation followed advice from the CDC on Friday for people to consider not using e-cigarette products while it investigates the outbreak.
On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed his state’s health department to subpoena the records of three marketers and sellers of thickening agents used in black market vaping products.
Cuomo also issued emergency regulations requiring all vape and smoke shops in the state to post signage warning of the dangers of vaping. The governor said he will advance legislation banning flavoured e-cigarettes, as health advocates cite kid-friendly flavours as a key driver of e-cigarette use among youths.