MANSFIELD -- Richland County has had two citizens hospitalized with severe pulmonary illness due to vaping, according to Richland Public Health.

Nationally, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention is investigating nearly 1,500 cases of e-cigarrette-related hospitalizations.

"We have 32 cases in Ohio and two cases in Richland County," said Emily Leedy, an epidemiologist for Richland County Public Health. "But we don't have any deaths so far."

According to the CDC website, which is updated each Thursday, there have been 1,479 lung injury cases associated with e-cigarette use or vaping reported in the United States. 

Cases in Ohio have ranged for victims ages 13 to 75, but the median age is 23, according to the CDC. Victims in 80 percent of cases in the United States are 35-years-old or younger.

The epidemic has given the CDC a puzzle proving difficult to solve, according to Reed Richmond, a health educator at Richland Public Health.

"The CDC is still trying to investigate the source of the lung injury and what is going on," Leedy said. "Some cases have reported using THC (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis), some have reported using nicotine and some have reported using both.

"They are still not sure; they are not pinning it on THC or nicotine. It's still kind of up in the air."

Vaping, a product which became a popular alternative to smoking cigarettes, is not an FDA or CDC approved alternative.

The e-cigarette works by heating flavorings, nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor which is breathed in by users, said Tracee Anderson, a certified tobacco cessation specialist with CACY (community action for capable youth). Anderson said often there are chemicals added to vapes, including metals which can get stuck in a user's lungs, leading to lung injury.

"Most of the users (in Ohio CDC investigation cases) have been on ventilators," Leedy said. "It's a pretty severe lung condition. We've had 33 deaths in the nation, so it has been associated with death.

"If you look at chest X-rays, those are abnormal."

Leedy added tests for infectious diseases showed in fact, that something in e-cigarettes is causing issues.

"It's a severe illness," Leedy said. "Of all the Ohio cases, 91 percent have been hospitalized, and they are hospitalized for a while. It's not like they are just in there for a day and go home."

Perhaps the biggest X-factor for the CDC and health departments trying to solve this issue is the newness of vaping.

"We don't know what the long-term affects are going to be, these people seem to improve," Leedy said. "It's really hard to know if they are going to have more consequences in five or 10 years. We just don't know."

Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 marked a new day in tobacco product law. 

Ohio’s new “Tobacco 21” law took effect, raising the age to purchase cigarettes, other tobacco products and alternative nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and vaping products from 18 to 21. 

It is now also illegal to give such products to others under the age of 21.

“Evidence suggests that nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has long-term impacts on brain development, and tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, MD, MPH. “Raising the sales age for tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 means that those who can legally obtain these products are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students."

Anderson said she hopes this new law will show young adults and teenagers how seriously they should take tobacco products.

"I think this is a good way for adults to give a clear message that there is no health benefit to using a vape," she said. "It's a preventable death. To me, this tobacco law is an attempt at that."

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Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.