Count Dr. Clarke Piatt among those joining the growing chorus sounding a warning alarm about vaping, especially where it concerns teens and young adults.
Pitt is a pulmonologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. And he doesn’t like what he is seeing in the growing cases of medical maladies believed tied to vaping and e-cigarettes.
He’s not alone.
Just last week Pennsylvania confirmed its first death believed linked to the popular devices that deliver nicotine in an aerosol form. That gives it something in common with New Jersey and Delaware, which also have recorded deaths believed tied to vaping.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine noted that in addition to the death, a rash of lung injuries also are being attributed to vaping. She made the decision to recommend that people not vape.
“The lung injury cases are very serious, life-threatening and even fatal,” Levine said. “We do not yet know what is making people sick, and whether the illnesses are related to products, or potentially the delivery of those products.”
Part of the problem, one that is pointed to by vaping proponents, is that officials are not yet sure what other chemicals are being added to the vaping that could be causing the illnesses. In particular, there seems to be alarm surround THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, being added to the vaping process.
Levine acknowledged that possibility, but also suggested a potential danger with legally purchased products.
“We want to warn people that investigations are ongoing and we advise they use extreme caution before using any vaping product at this time.”
Hers is not the only voice being raised.
The federal Centers for Disease Control last week noted 1,080 confirmed and possible lung injury cases associated with e-product use, covering 48 states. Eighteen deaths have been confirmed in 15 states. The media age of patients who have died is 50. They range in age from 27 to 71.
The CDC said their findings of those sickened found 78 percent using products containing THC, with or without nicotine-containing products; 37 percent using THC products exclusively; and 17 percent using nicotine products exclusively.
Piatt, who lives in Radnor, spoke to the township Board of Health. He said he felt compelled to come forward, both as a parent and a physician.
Piatt offered a fairly harrowing narrative, noting some of the vaping products use propylene glycol, which is also used to de-ice airplanes.
“You can imagine what this can do to your lungs,” Piatt told the board.
In particular Piatt offered a warning that vaping, which was initially introduced and marketed as a way help smokers break the habit, is now being used by kids as young as elementary and middle school who are becoming addicted to nicotine. Flavored cartridges, which are now being banned by some states, are adding to the lure for young people.
“From the frontline of medicine I’ve not seen anything like this in my career in medicine,” Piatt said. “We’re basically solving a medical mystery now.”
There is much that is still not known about these illnesses, what is causing them and exactly what role vaping and the various ingredients involved in it plays in the outbreak.
Here in Pennsylvania, Levine pointed out that the state’s medical marijuana program also is intertwined into this health crisis. But Levine stressed that most of the problems pinpointed so far have instead been connected to illegally bought vaping products, including those containing THC.:
She made clear that even legally purchased products could be problematic and urged caution in using any vaping product.
“Many medications carry risk and vaping medical marijuana sold in our dispensaries carries risk in the same way that other medications do,” Levine said. “If you are vaping, whether as part of the medical marijuana program or not, it is essential that you have an honest conversation with your physician about the potential risk for serious illness.”
The CDC admits that these medical maladies have not been linked to a single substance or product.
What is known is that people – including a lot of young people – are getting sick. They are suffering serious lung problems, with several teens hospitalized with lung failure and pneumonia-like symptoms.
The warning signs are there.
How ironic is it that a generation after the Surgeon General announced to the world that “cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health,” and ordered that warning by displayed on all tobacco products, that a new problem – one that was thought of as an alternative to tobacco – is setting off similar health alarms.
Once again, you’ve been warned.
- Delaware County Times, MediaNews Group