The number of vaping-related illnesses surged recently to 2,290 cases nationwide with 47 confirmed deaths. Two of those deaths have occurred in Louisiana, and both of them were reported this week.
On Friday, Nov. 22, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 32 cases of vaping lung illnesses statewide and added its second fatality. The agency reported its first death from the disease, which federal health officials have named “EVALI” (e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury) on Monday, Nov. 18.
“One death is one too many. We urge people to recognize the dangers of vaping and to stop vaping until more is known about the specific causes of lung injuries that have been occurring in people who use vaping products,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health.
Louisiana Health officials report that 29 is the median age of people in the state diagnosed with the vaping lung illness, which in many ways resembles a severe form of pneumonia. Some people have recovered from the illness while others have suffered complete lung failure. Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Michigan student became the first EVALI patient to undergo a lung transplant.
The Louisiana Department of Health says that 55% of the vaping illnesses in Louisiana stem from the use of a nicotine-THC combination. One in five patients – about 21% – have reported using nicotine vapes only.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tested dozens of EVALI patients and found that vitamin E acetate is a suspect ingredient common to all of them. The CDC continues to work with state and local researchers to understand what’s causing the national outbreak of vaping deaths. Health officials have not ruled out other potential causes.
EVALI has been reported in every state except Alaska. It also affects patients in Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The national death toll now stands at 47 in 25 states and DC.
Vaping products hit the U.S. market about 10 years ago with a lot of fanfare and near-zero regulation. Now, years after vapes first became a thing, the health impacts of their chemical ingredients are starting to reveal themselves. Unfortunately, it has been a learn-as-you-go process as doctors and health researchers scramble to connect vape chemicals with a spectrum of adverse health effects.
“The fact of the matter is, this is an under-regulated industry. There is a lot of uncertainty, it’s a new industry and we’re all learning things very quickly,” assistant state health officer for Louisiana Joseph Kanter told the Times-Picayune.
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing the top U.S. vape maker JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. On Oct. 7 they also filed lawsuits on behalf of school districts in three states, which seek to protect students and recover resources spent fighting the vaping epidemic.