Michigan reports first death from vaping-related lung injury
A Michigan man became the state's first death from a vaping-related lung injury as state and federal officials investigate a health problem that this year already has claimed 18 lives across the country.
State health officials said Friday they wouldn't identify the man and any other information about him because of confidentiality reasons. About 30 confirmed or suspected vaping-related lung injury cases have been reported in Michigan since August, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“We are saddened to announce a death associated with this outbreak,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the department's chief medical executive and chief deputy for health.
“To protect public health, we urge people to consider refraining from vaping until the specific cause of the vaping-related severe lung injuries being reported nationwide has been identified. To help with this investigation, we are reminding health care providers to report patients that may have this condition to their local health department.”
Most of the Michigan individuals with the vaping-related lung injury have been hospitalized for severe respiratory illness. The individuals with lung injury have ranged in age from 16 years old to 67, state officials said.
Nationally, 1,080 vaping lung injury cases have been reported in 48 states and one territory as of Tuesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 75% of the cases involved individuals who vaped with marijuana products in combination with nicotine or alone, according to the CDC.
In Michigan, a state health department review of 19 cases found that 74% used THC alone — the main active ingredient in marijuana — or in combination with nicotine. Another 10% used nicotine alone; 5% used just CBD — an active pot compound known as cannabidiol — and 11% reported using flavorings alone, according to the state.
The review doesn't include the Wednesday death of the Michigan man because an interview hasn't been completed, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
A vaping industry-backed group called the Defend MI Rights Coalition urged state health officials to release as much information as possible about the products used by the dead Michigan man so others might dispose of those products.
"As this death was just reported to us, we do not have this information," Sutfin said. "We are attempting to get this information from all our cases and work closely with CDC and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to get products tested in effort to identify what is causing the illnesses."
The state recommends that e-cigarette or vaping users immediately get medical help if they develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever and/or nausea and vomiting.
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In early September, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an emergency flavored vaping ban order that would prohibit the sale of all flavored e-cigarette products, with the exception of tobacco flavored products, to combat a reported increase in youth usage of the product. State law already prohibits children from using vape products.
On Wednesday, Michigan began the ban on the flavored vaping products that Whitmer said were aimed at hooking children on e-cigarettes.
President Donald Trump and other governors have announced similar plans. New York became the first state to implement its emergency flavored vaping ban, but it was temporarily blocked on Friday by a state appeals court after a challenge from an industry group.
“This is a health crisis we’re confronting," Whitmer said in September. "It would never be permitted if it was cigarettes, but we’re letting these companies target our kids, appeal to our kids and deceive our children."
Defend MI Rights, a coalition of small businesses and civil rights advocates, called for Whitmer to end the prohibition in light of the Michigan death.
“We implore the governor to re-evaluate the ban in place and look to sensible regulations that will allow adults to use flavored nicotine-based vape products," Defend MI Rights spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said in a Friday statement.
"More and more scientific studies, including research done by the Centers for Disease Control, are being published that show that the illnesses have arisen from black market or homemade products that contain THC — which is not sold in vape shops in Michigan."
On Friday, the state health department clarified its emergency vaping rules to say they don't prohibit the possession of flavored nicotine vapor products in the state or the return of such products to a wholesaler or manufacturer. They also don't ban businesses from transporting flavored vaping products to individuals outside of Michigan.
Houghton vape shop owner Marc Slis has filed legal action to stop the state's ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens plans to hear arguments requesting a preliminary injunction on the ban as soon as Tuesday afternoon in Petoskey, but she requested Slis' request for a temporary restraining order. A federal judge also refused to act quickly in a second lawsuit.
Slis, who testified at a Sept. 12 House committee hearing on the ban, said e-cigarettes helped him to quit combustible cigarettes after 41 years of smoking, 30 of which he spent unsuccessfully trying to quit. He drove more than 500 miles for the hearing, he told lawmakers.
“You won’t just be banning flavors,” Slis said. “You’ll be banning a life-saving industry from this state.”
Public health officials have labeled underage vaping an epidemic and new survey data shows the problem worsening. Nearly 28% of high school students reported vaping in the last month, according to preliminary CDC figures for this year. The number is up from 21% last year and 12% the year before.
Staff Writer Karen Bouffard contributed.