Mystery vaping illness confirmed for over 1,000 Americans, 18 dead, kids strongly urged to stop vaping |

Mystery vaping illness confirmed for over 1,000 Americans, 18 dead, kids strongly urged to stop vaping

A display of vaping products is available on the counter at one of Frisco, Colorado's local shops, Smok N Bra, on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. The products for vaping contain nicotine. (Liz Copan /
A display of vaping products on the counter at one of Frisco’s local shops, Smok N’ Bra, on Wednesday, Aug. 14. As of Oct. 1, more than 1,000 Americans have been sickened and 18 killed by a mysterious illness linked to vaping products.
Liz Copan /

The mysterious vaping illness outbreak discovered earlier this year is quickly becoming a national public health crisis. In its latest update on the investigation into the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control announced on Tuesday that there have been 1,080 confirmed cases of the vaping illness in 48 states and one territory, with 18 deaths in 15 states officially recorded.

The state of Connecticut announced that one of its early deaths was not included in the CDC’s national total, which means at least 19 Americans have died from the illness tied to e-cigarettes, THC cartridges and other vaping products. 

Although the CDC has suggested that products containing THC play a role, and several sample studies showed most cases involve THC products, no specific product, substance or additive has been pinpointed as the main contributor to the illness. The same uncertainty still exists as to whether semi-regulated retail or unregulated bootleg vaping products are more to blame.

In Colorado, the latest information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has nine confirmed cases of the vaping illness, with seven hospitalizations. Summit County has not recorded any cases so far. Nationwide, 70% of recorded cases involve males, and 81% of cases involve patients under the age of 35. The median age of deceased patients is 49.5, with deaths ranging in people aged 27 to 71.

Research done by the Mayo Clinic has revealed injuries similar to chemical burns in lungs of many severely ill patients, a pathology similar to mustard gas or other toxic chemical agents. Traditional combustive tobacco and marijuana products had never shown these kind of consistent chemical burn injuries before the vaping trend began several years ago.

Lauren Gilbert, a public health nurse with Summit County’s department of public health and environment, has said that both the CDC and state public health department have recommended all users stop using any vaping or e-cigarette product — whether it be nicotine, THC or others — while the investigation continues. 

Summit County has a particular interest in the ongoing crisis, as a 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado survey revealed that at least 40% of Summit High School students reported vaping in the past 30 days. 

Gilbert said there is strong suspicion that 18-year-olds are buying vaping products legally and distributing them to minors, similar to how minors have gotten access to cigarettes in the past. She noted that because of the pervasive vaping in Summit’s schools, it has become difficult for young people who use nicotine e-cigarette products, such as the popular Juul brand, to kick the nicotine addiction they’ve acquired.

The Youth Empowerment Society of Summit, a volunteer group of local young people promoting healthy behavior and decisions for Summit’s youth, has presented to local governments and produced several videos urging their peers to stop vaping, not only for their own health but to stop the influence pervasive vaping is having on Summit’s young people.

The Youth Empowerment Society of Summit (YESS) produced a video warning Summit High School students on the dangers of vaping.

“Vaping is unfortunately extremely casual in the daily life of all summit high school students,” said Summit High senior Courtney Brown in one of the videos produced by YESS. “Especially for those youth who wish to quit does vaping become even more dangerous. Several of my peers are aware of their addiction, but are unable to quit because they are constantly surrounded by it on school grounds, at home and around the county.”

Further compounding the problem for young people trying to quit vaping is the ban on sales of nicotine replacement therapy products, such as nicotine gum, to minors under the age of 18. Even if they want to quit, there is no readily available product they can turn to for their fix.

Gilbert said that there are resources available to minors who are trying to quit vaping. GIlbert said that the Colorado Quitline, accessible by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visiting, is now taking calls from anyone aged 12 or older to help them quit nicotine products. Gilbert also said that the Summit County Community Care Clinic provides behavioral help to kids to help them quit.

The Care Clinic will be hosting a community forum on smoking cessation, lung cancer screening and local tobacco use prevention on Oct. 24 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, located at 83 Nancy’s Place in Frisco.

There will also be a Positive Youth Development Training seminar on Oct. 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Ten Mile Room of the Frisco Medical Office Building at 360 Peak One Drive in Frisco. The interactive session will feature community partners and provide information on adolescent brain development, as well as how to increase youth engagement through skills, opportunities and authentic relationships.

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