NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Vaping and e-cigarette devices were quick to become the better, “healthier” alternative to smoking. But with each passing week, more severe illnesses and even deaths have been attributed to vaping-related lung disease.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), there have been 40 reported cases of vaping-related illnesses in the state as of Sept. 26.
According to a NCDHHS spokesperson, the number of cases has been increasing each week, as more cases are being reported and/or more individuals have sought medical care. Most individuals have been hospitalized and required respiratory support.
On Thursday, news spread of the first North Carolina vaping-related death. An individual from Virginia died at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro. DHHS is coordinating with the Virginia Department of Health to determine if the case meets the CDC’s vaping investigation case classification.
WECT reached out to NCDHHS, the New Hanover County Health Department, and New Hanover Regional Medical Center for county-specific information related to vaping hospitalizations.
All three organizations were unable to provide numbers at this time.
Dr. Oluwole Odunusi, a pulmonologist at Coastal Pulmonary Medicine, warned against the increasing dangers and rare diseases that have been related to vaping.
"A lot of these different types of substances contain volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, even oils, all those things can cause uncommon or rare lung diseases that a pulmonologist like myself would rarely see in the lifetime of work,” Odunusi said.
Vaping and e-cigarette products are not regulated by the FDA, and until regulations are set, Odunusi recommends avoiding all e-cigarette devices.
“Simply by just not using them. Just stop using them. Don’t use them at all. And that’s the thing, ultimately there will be, soon, a federal regulation of this. The FDA is working on an actual regulation to either ban or withdraw off the market some flavoring products and even some states are doing this as well,” he said.
Odunusi acknowledged that there has been a large increase in hospitalizations related to vaping across the country, especially in the adolescent population.
"We’ve come to find in the last several months, specifically in the last two months, is that vaping can be associated with much more significant and varied amount of lung disease that are not associated with infection, actually,” he said.
Odunusi said the issue is primarily an adolescent and young adult one. He said since the creation of e-cigarettes in 2008, they have seen dramatic increases in use in the adolescent population. In 2018, 21 percent of adolescents reported using some type of e-cigarette device.
“Which is huge for a group of people that aren’t supposed to be smoking cigarettes in the first place," Odunusi said. "So it really is an adolescent disease comparably to the older population. Adults greater than 25 years of age and older, it’s only about 3.8 percent.”
Odunusi said these hospitalizations and even deaths could easily be prevented by not using these products.
“It’s a problem because we have patients that are just starting out their lives and they’re causing damage to their lungs so significantly, so early. We can only imagine what kind of issues they can have later on, if they survive the initial insult with a lung injury,” Odunsi said.
In addition to stopping the use of all e-cigarette-related products until more research is conducted, he recommends talking to children and teens about the dangers of these products.