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Local health officials, lawmakers address growing number of vaping illness cases

DeKALB – Keilene McCants, who’s worked at The Smoke Shop in DeKalb since February, said “Lush Ice” flavor vape liquid are the shop’s most popular product.

She said it has been “business as usual” despite public concern about a respiratory illness linked to vaping.

“I think a lot of people use [the illness news] as a topic of conversation,” said McCants, 21, a Northern Illinois University senior from Joliet.

The store is located at 818 W. Lincoln Highway 3 in DeKalb.

“A lot of people are starting to be more aware of it, so I hear a lot of customers saying that they’re trying to cut down, cut back,” McCants said. “But nicotine is addicting, obviously.”

More than 500 cases of mysterious illnesses linked to vaping have been reported nationwide so far, with almost 70 in Illinois, including one reported death, that could be linked to the disease, although the cause remains unknown.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said confirmed and probable cases have been reported in 38 states and one U.S. territory, and recommended people refrain from using e-cigarettes or vape products. Seven deaths have been reported nationwide.

All patients reportedly used an electronic cigarette or other vaping device to inhale vapor. The vapor usually contains propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid with nicotine, flavoring, Tetrahydrocannabinol (known as THC, found in marijuana) or other chemicals and metals, not including tobacco.

Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. So far, no single vaping product or ingredient has been linked to the illnesses. Two-thirds of the cases involved 18- to 34-year-olds. Most are men.

In a committee hearing in Chicago on Monday with other lawmakers, Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, highlighted what he said remains unclear – whether any of the cases resulted from product tampering, brand, ingredients or use.

Keicher also said that e-cigarettes have been available to consumers for more than 10 years, but people have become seriously ill within only the past few months.

“Are we being too premature on addressing this issue with what’s been proposed when we don’t even know from the CDC … what those issues are that are reflective of the problems that are putting these folks in the hospital?” Keicher asked.

Some of the first cases appeared in April, and Keith Gordey, a pulminologist with Northwestern Medicine who’s been practicing for about 30 years, said symptoms seem to increase slowly, and it remains unclear what type of substance is causing the illnesses.

“At the moment we have to consider that there’s really no safe vaping,” Gordey said. “It seems to be affecting young people because they’re the ones who are more likely to be vaping with other-than-nicotine products.”

Gordey said that contrary to popular belief, the illness is not an infection, although it can look like pneumonia.

“The lung is being injured by some component in vaping,” Gordey said. “Research is being done to try to find out what that is, whether it’s some additive or flavoring, some other contaminant, or does it have to do with the vehicle they use? There’s something that’s being vaporized that’s toxic.”

Those who use vaping devices or e-cigarettes should keep an eye out for fever, chills, headaches, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or a general cough, shortness of breath, or frequent chest pain, Gordey said.

Doctors are treating the illness with steroids so far, Gordey said, because whatever is injuring the lungs is causing them to be inflamed. He said that deaths only are a small percentage so far, and patients treated for the illness usually show signs of improvement within 24 to 72 hours.

Anyone experiencing symptoms is urged to seek a screening through a health care provider, Gordey said.

McCants, who said she does not vape personally, said customers at The Smoke Shop are mostly students from NIU, although a mix of older people frequent the store, too. She said younger people tend to gravitate toward disposal vaping devices such as STIGs or JUUL because of the price.

“It’s just a young kid crowd,” McCants said. “Something everyone does socially at parties while they drink.”

Melissa Edwards, health promotion and emergency preparedness coordinator at the DeKalb County Health Department, said her staff are tracking CDC reports closely, and also are seeking feedback from the public.

“At local health departments in Illinois, we have been asked to promote the anonymous survey on vaping habits to understand why people are becoming seriously ill after vaping,” Edwards said.

The anonymous survey can be found at online by visiting

• Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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