Last Thursday, what may be the first death attributed to a severe and mysterious lung disease linked to e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” was reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health. No further information has been released about the adult patient or the circumstances of death.

As of Friday, there were 193 known cases of the illness across 22 states. The illness is primarily affecting adolescents and young adults, the age group with the highest rates of vaping.

The Centers for Disease Control continues to work with state and local health departments and the FDA to understand the “cause or causes” of the illness, Robert Redfield, director, said in a press statement released Friday. 

“This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products. Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents,” Redfield said.

Investigators haven’t found a common link among patients other than the use of e-cigarettes. Many patients, including some in Illinois, the New York Times reported, acknowledge vaping THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana which induces a high. 

E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, e-vapes, hookah pens and other nicknames, are hand-held battery-powered devices containing a liquid mixture of nicotine along with potentially harmful chemical flavorings and additives. The liquid is vaporized by heating and inhaled. (Nicotine-free e-cigarettes are also available.)

E-cigarettes can look like traditional cigarettes, cigars or pipes or, alternatively, USB sticks (JUULs, the most popular brand) or pens. They are the most common form of nicotine used by teens. The main advantage of e-cigarettes is that they don’t produce the tar and toxic fumes that regular cigarettes do. 

According to the Surgeon General, e-cigarettes are unsafe for young people.

Patients admitted for vape-related respiratory issues in Illinois range in age from 17 to 38, according to the state health department.

While this issue affects everyone, it’s clear the younger demographic is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the recent e-cigarette boom and much of its youth-targeted advertising.

Featured photo by Dani Ramos on Unsplash