Health officials scramble to identify cause of lung disease linked to vaping

Deaths linked to lung disease, apparently caused by vaping, rose to five Friday, prompting health officials across the country to warn people of the danger, including leaders in the Bay Area.

Three more deaths were announced Friday, joining Indiana, Minnesota, and California with Illinois and Oregon in the nationwide rise of vaping-related deaths and illnesses.

“Right now, because we cannot pin down exactly what that issue is, the CDC has basically given us guidance that if you’re vaping or using e-cigarettes at this time you may want to consider not doing this until we can figure out what is happening,” said Dr. Kristina Box, the Indiana state health commissioner.

In the more than 450 reported cases, every patient vaped; however, the products they used varied, containing substances like THC, vitamin E acetate, and/or nicotine, according to the Washington Post

Tampa General Hospital said its doctors are treating two patients with suspected vaping-related lung illnesses currently.

“It's going to be tough for the researchers to really try to figure out if there's a single thing or a couple of different compounds that may be causing these problems,” said Dr. Zachary Stachura, an attending physician at TGH and an associate professor of the division pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the University of South Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated people who vape should not buy anything off the street, modify the devices or add to the products.

Workers at Purely Vapor in Tampa said it’s important to know what’s in the products and where they are coming from.

“When you're buddy comes by and says, ‘Hey, I can put this in that for you,’ you might just want to leave it to the professionals,” said Harold Weeks, who works at Purely Vapor.

While vape products are supposed to be for adults only, more children are using them. That reality prompted Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman to act. She said she wants to explore regulating flavored products and increasing the age to purchase to 21.

“We have a lot to learn from this, but I think we need to do it,” said Murman, “We have to keep our kids safe at any cost.”

Murman said the Hillsborough County attorney and the sheriff's office are working to see what other parts of the country are doing to restrict vaping, and they will bring what they learn to commissioners in about a month.

Health officials said vaping devices and products should only be used as the manufacturers’ intended. They were originally marketed as a way to kick traditional cigarettes.

If you don’t vape, do not start, doctors said. The CDC said so far there is not one thing linking all of the cases together outside of the act of vaping.