As of Nov. 26, 104 cases of vaping-associated severe lung disease had been reported in North Texas—a little more than half of the total cases statewide, according to the Texas Department of State Health and Human Services.
McKinney hospitals are among those across the state that are addressing vaping concerns.
The long-term effects of vaping are not fully known, said Dr. Jaya Kumar, chief medical officer at Medical City McKinney. Vaping-related illnesses have only recently become a concern as people began experimenting with vapes and adding unsafe ingredients, she said.
THC, the high-inducing compound in marijuana, is present in most cartridges used by patients with vaping-related lung injuries and tested by the FDA, according to the CDC. The latest national and state findings suggest cartridges with THC, particularly from off the street, are linked to most lung injury cases and have played a “major” role in the outbreak, the CDC reports.
“It gives you the high,” said Dr. Rashid Rahman, a pulmonologist for Medical City McKinney. “People want to add different things to an already manufactured liquid. And that’s where the problem is.”
Patients suffering from a vaping-related lung injury come to the hospital with nonspecific symptoms, said Dr. Elizabeth Fagan, director of the emergency medical department at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center—McKinney. These can include shortness of breath, a nonproductive cough and sharp pains in the chest, she said.
If a vaping-related illness is not diagnosed and treated properly, the illness can become more serious, Fagan said.
According to the CDC, e-cigarettes can contain harmful substances, such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds; cancer-causing chemicals; and heavy metals.
But advocates for safe vaping products cite reports from other public health organizations that claim e-cigarettes are a safe harm-reduction tool for cigarette smokers.
Greg Conley, president of the East Coast-based American Vaping Association, said e-cigarettes have acted as a smoking cessation device for millions of people.
“For a smoker—someone who is inhaling 4,000 chemicals into their lungs multiple times a day—switching to vaping is a much healthier choice,” he said.
Dr. Rahman said he has recommended e-cigarettes to his patients to help them successfully stop smoking. However, he said he recommends pure nicotinic e-cigarettes and not any product that has THC or other ingredients in it.
Claims of media hysteria
Members of pro-vaping groups have criticized the media for what they perceive as stoking hysteria over the dangers of e-cigarettes. In doing so, the groups said, the media could be driving former smokers back to traditional cigarettes.
“Patients are coming to me now that are cigarette smokers. And I talk about smoking cessation methods and I talk about electronic cigarettes, and immediately, they go, ‘Oh no, vaping? I can’t do vaping.’ And they don’t even realize they’re doing worse than that right now,” Rahman said.
But both Rahman and Kumar said it is important to raise awareness about the possible dangers of vaping.
“Do not add anything from friends [or] family, like THC or CBD oil—anything on the street,” Kumar said. “Do not mix anything with it if you really have to vape. But to be 100% safe,” she said, “do not vape at all.”
Additional reporting by Miranda Jaimes