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Vaping products, one of the fastest-growing segments of the legal cannabis industry, have taken a hit as public health experts scramble to determine what’s causing a mysterious and sometimes fatal lung disease among people who use e-cigarettes. (Sept. 26)
AP, AP

Public health officials are investigating a rise nationwide in reported cases of severe respiratory illnesses among people who use e-cigarettes.

Here’s what Iowans need to know:

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine, flavorings and other ingredients to its users, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The use of e-cigarettes is often called vaping. Vaping from the devices creates an aerosol that “can contain harmful chemicals”, the CDC says.

E-cigarettes are sometimes packaged to look like cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but they’ve also been designed to look like pens and everyday items.

Why are officials linking illnesses to vaping?

Public health officials say the cases have been tied to people with a history of using e-cigarette products.

Officials say most of the patients have reported a history of using products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. Those vaping products have included some obtained from informal sources like friends, family and illicit drug dealers.

Officials have not identified the cause or causes of the illnesses, but the CDC has recommended people not use e-cigarette products that contain THC. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended people stop using THC-containing vaping products and e-cigarette products obtained off the street.

What are the symptoms of the illnesses?

It includes coughing, fatigue, dizziness, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

Who has become sick in Iowa?

There have been 1,299 “lung injury cases” associated with vaping, according to a CDC report released Oct. 11. Cases have been reported from 49 states, the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory.

Public health officials have also reported 26 deaths in 21 states.

In Iowa, there have been 38 cases of respiratory illness tied to vaping. Most cases (33) have involved people vaping what health officials described as “illicit THC products.” No deaths have been reported in the state.

What are Iowa officials doing?

Gov. Kim Reynolds said in early October that the illnesses were of “significant concern” and she was “taking a look at” vaping bans other states had recently adopted.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is working with federal officials to monitor reported cases. Officials say anyone who has been using e-cigarette products and is having trouble breathing should seek medical care. Health care providers in Iowa are expected to report suspected cases of severe respiratory illnesses associated with vaping.

Iowa officials have also recently announced it is partnering with National Jewish Health to promote a program aimed at slashing the rise in youth tobacco and e-cigarette use.

The My Life, My Quit program includes educational materials and a helpline for teens, who can text or call 855-891-9989 or visit mylifemyquit.com for free, real-time and confidential coaching.

Barbara Rodriguez covers health care and politics for the Register. She can be reached by email at bcrodriguez@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8011. Follow her on Twitter @bcrodriguez.

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