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Stop vaping now, officials warn

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Deaths and serious health problems from vaping have prompted Oregon health experts to raise alarms, urging everyone to stop using all vape devices.

“Clearly there is something really dangerous going on, and we haven’t figured it out,” said Jim Shames, medical director and health officer for Jackson County. “We’re probably just looking at the tip of the iceberg.”

For cannabis consumers, Shames recommends switching to edible products until more testing is done on cannabis vape devices and products.

“Absolutely people need to stop vaping with THC-related products,” he said.

For nicotine users, he suggests patches or gums as an alternative to vaping.

In July, the death of an Oregon resident related to a cannabis vape device capped several months of bad news for a product that has increasingly grown popular with young people.

The Oregon death was related to a vape pen that contained THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The device was purchased in a cannabis store, though health officials haven’t said where in the state it was purchased.

Despite growing evidence that vaping is potentially deadly, many consumers say it’s still a better alternative than smoking cigarettes. Many claim they feel much better after switching years ago to vaping from smoking tobacco.

The Centers for Disease Control has found lung illnesses in 450 people from vaping, and five deaths have been reported. It’s still not clear what’s causing it, but anecdotal reports have pointed to the possible use of vitamin E oil in the vaping liquid, which coats the inside of the lungs, though not all the devices used vitamin E oil.

While vitamin E is a popular health supplement, it is designed to be ingested, not smoked, Shames said.

Shames said it’s possible that vape users may suffer long-term lung problems that manifest later in life.

While he recommends everyone stop vaping, Shames doesn’t suggest turning back to cigarettes.

He suggests that consumers consider the dangers of smoking any substance.

“I can’t think of anyone who would use the word ‘safe’ when putting hot smoke in your lungs,” he said. “Look at poison oak oil. You wouldn’t want to inhale that.”

Clay Bearnson, who owns Oregon Farmacy Dispensary and is a Medford councilor, said, “I question anybody who vapes. It’s an inherent risk when you inhale things.”

Some consumers who’ve used vaping devices sometimes complain they can be finicky, often clogging or becoming difficult to inhale properly.

Bearnson said he has heard customers complain about the devices, and clogging appears more problematic with 1 gram vape cartridges compared to half-gram cartridges.

Without more information, Bearnson said it’s difficult to say what the real culprit is for the lung problems and death associated with vaping.

“Everybody has different physiological makeups, so it’s hard to say what’s really causing it,” he said.

Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and epidemiologist at Oregon Health Authority, said the illnesses and deaths are very concerning.

“I would encourage everybody not to vape,” he said.

He said many of the vape devices have a variety of different substances used in them, including flavor enhancers, all of which may contribute to long-term health effects.

While some health care professionals have indicated that vaping might be a safer alternative than cigarette smoking, Jeanne disagrees.

“I certainly would not say anybody who is smoking should switch to vaping,” he said. “I can’t say it’s safer than smoking tobacco.”

While vitamin E oil has been implicated in some of the vaping devices, Jeanne said it’s too early to jump to any conclusions. He said the high temperatures in vape devices also cause the release of toxic metals that are sucked into the lungs.

Jeanne said the long-term health consequence of vaping, including for cannabis products, is not known yet, but he thinks inhaling smoke damages lungs.

“Smoking anything has significant health effects,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneA Medford man vapes during his lunch break Monday.
“Clearly there is something really dangerous going on, and we haven’t figured it out,” said Jim Shames, medical director and health officer for Jackson County. “We’re probably just looking at the tip of the iceberg.”