The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is confirming three reports of severe pulmonary illness are likely caused by vaping and it is investigating 11 more suspected cases. That's up from six suspected cases the agency reported less than two weeks ago.
The three confirmed cases in Lucas, Richland and Union counties all required hospitalization and range in age from 18 to 26 years old.
"CDC is currently in the process of a multistate investigation," says Brian King, deputy director for research translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Office of Smoking and Health who was in Cincinnati Wednesday for the Greater Cincinnati Tobacco Summit. "We have 215 suspected cases in 25 states. Currently we do not know the etiology or cause."
The ODH is asking healthcare providers to report for investigation all potential cases of serious pulmonary illness with a potential link to vaping.
Patients are exhibiting symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, in some cases requiring hospitalization. Other reported symptoms include fever, chest pain, weight loss, nausea and diarrhea.
Part of the problem, says Interact for Health CEO Dr. O'dell Owens, MD, is people think vaping is safe, but they're actually taking in more nicotine than they would from traditional smoking.
"One cartridge of Juul is equal to a pack of cigarettes," Owens says, "and there's some kids that will do a cartridge in a couple of hours. They have contests to see how fast you can go through that, so therefore, you're going to get addicted faster because you're taking in a higher dose of nicotine."
The U.S. surgeon general declared vaping and e-cigarette use an epidemic in December, and the CDC reports more than 3.6 million youth used e-cigarettes in 2018, a 78% increase from 2017.
"Nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain – which continues to develop until about age 25," the agency states.
Michigan on Wednesday became the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes and vape products.
"The order from (Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer comes after the Michigan Department of Health recorded six respiratory illnesses linked to vaping over two months. The patients range in age from 19 to 39," according to a report by Michigan Radio.
The American Vaping Association denounced Michigan's ban. President Gregory Conley says in a statement the ban "will create a massive, multi-million dollar black market for these products, which are the same conditions that led to the recent spate of lung illnesses that are now clearly linked to illegal THC vaping products."
A study in the January New England Journal of Medicine finds e-cigarettes are helpful in helping adults smokers quit.
Vaping advocacy groups argue the cigarette alternatives haven't been around long enough for there to be a body of scientific evidence proving they pose a health risk.
"However, we know enough already about what e-cigarettes contain, how they work, and how they are used, to be very confident that e-cigarettes simply cannot be remotely as dangerous as cigarette smoking," the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association (CASAA) writes.
While tobacco use has declined nationwide and locally over the past decade, 19% of adults in Greater Cincinnati smoke cigarettes as compared to 14% nationally. Of those surveyed in the just-released study by Interact for Health, 12% of adults use e-cigarettes, 8% use cigars/cigarillos, and 5% use smokeless tobacco products.
That adds up to 34% - or 1 in 3 - Greater Cincinnati adults who use some form of tobacco.
Another statistic the survey turned up distresses Dr. Owens.
"Sixty nine percent of African Americans smoke a menthol cigarette compared to only 19% of whites," Owens says. "That's one of the reasons that the tobacco companies fought so hard in 2009 not to allow the FDA to remove menthol from the flavoring list. All flavors were removed except menthol because they had a fixed group (consisting) of African Americans and the LGBT community."
Owens says that's concerning because of the inequities in targeting low-income and rural areas.