As I type these words, I am vaping (today, it is a Juul, equipped with a mint-flavored pod). I vape because I would like to not smoke analog cigarettes, which are delicious yet a known danger. But lately, a rash of vaping-related illnesses and even deaths has swept the nation, alarming doctors, public health professionals, parents, and vapers themselves. There are now so many cases that states are issuing warnings about vaping; in Michigan, the governor on Wednesday (temporarily) banned the sale of flavored vape cartridges altogether.
Around the country, hundreds of people have come down with what the New York Times described as “mysterious and life-threatening vaping-related illnesses” in the last few months. One doctor described it as “becoming an epidemic.” “Something is very wrong,” Dr. Melodi Pirzada told the Times. One person in Illinois has already died, and in Oregon, the death of someone from severe respiratory illness in July is being investigated as a vaping-related death. More, from the Times:
Patients, mostly otherwise healthy and in their late teens and 20s, are showing up with severe shortness of breath, often after suffering for several days with vomiting, fever and fatigue. Some have wound up in the intensive care unit or on a ventilator for weeks. Treatment has been complicated by patients’ lack of knowledge — and sometimes outright denial — about the actual substances they might have used or inhaled.
It’s unclear what exactly is causing the health problems. Some doctors who treated Alexander Mitchell, a 20-year-old Utah man whose lungs failed after he vaped, believe that the increase in vaping-related illnesses may be the result of something recently added to “vape juice.” Per the Washington Post:
They say one culprit may be the liquid, commonly known as vape juice, that is a component of all e-cigarettes. The products vary greatly, but all contain a heating element that produces an aerosol from a liquid that users inhale through a mouthpiece.
The surge in cases may be the result of something recently added to the oils “to dilute or add to them,” said Scott Aberegg, a University of Utah hospital pulmonologist and critical care specialist, who cared for Mitchell and four other patients at his hospital and consulted on two others at another facility.
This certainly seems to be the explanation that the Centers for Disease Control is leaning towards—on August 30, the CDC wrote in a warning that “bootleg and street cannabis and e-cigarette products” were possibly to blame. (My takeaway: don’t buy shit off the street, kids, and smoke a joint instead of vaping THC.)
All of this is, of course, extremely bad news! But is this going to make me stop vaping? No. (I am, like I wrote earlier, vaping right now.) I’m going to tell myself that Juuling, from pods I buy directly from the manufacturer, is still safe. As my fellow vape enthusiast Barry Petchesky put it, “I know what cigarettes will do to me. Even the unknown is preferable to that.” Are we idiots? Probably. But are we going to die from smoking cigarettes? Nope!