On Sept. 10, in what some health officials have called an outbreak, six people had died from lung disease related to vaping or using e-cigarettes, and there were more than 450 possible cases of severe lung injury in 33 states, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World file 

The state’s first confirmed case of vaping-associated lung injury was found in a Tulsa County teen, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Thursday.

The injuries of the patient, a Tulsa County resident younger than 18, are associated with a national occurrence of serious lung injuries related to e-cigarette and vaping product use.

State health officials launched an investigation in September, requesting health care providers in the state report any cases of severe pulmonary disease of unknown origin and a history of recent e-cigarette use, according to the news release. Since then, OSDH officials have reviewed medical records, gathered data and conducted patient interviews, and the agency continues to do so.

Commissioner of Health Gary Cox said the agency is committed to preventing further injury and potential death.

“E-cigarettes are unregulated, and of great concern is the significant number of young people using the products,” Cox said in the release. “The public is advised to consider refraining from using all e-cigarette and vaping products while the investigation is ongoing.”

Electronic vapor product use among Oklahoma high school students rose 70% in two years, 2017 to 2019, according to preliminary data from the 2019 Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Further, data indicates more than a quarter of high school students currently use electronic vapor products, the release states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines electronic vapor products as e-cigarette or vaping products also called vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, tank systems, mods and electronic nicotine delivery systems, the release states. The term vaping can refer to using an e-cigarette or vaping product to inhale an array of substances, including nicotine and THC or CBD oils.

In 2018, 1 in 12 adults in Oklahoma were e-cigarette users, and for two years prior, Oklahoma had the highest prevalence of adult e-cigarette users in the nation.

Health officials “advise strongly” against purchasing electronic vapor products off the street, modifying them or using substances in them not intended by the manufacturer, the release states.

Dr. Jeremy Moad, a pulmonologist at OU Medical Center in Edmond, said experimentation with such practices, primarily done among young people, is likely why medical professionals are seeing an influx of vaping-related illnesses and deaths across the country.

Moad said vaping has been around for about a decade, but the products associated with the industry have remained largely unregulated. The lack of regulation, along with the black market, birthed a wide variety of products containing an even wider range of chemicals and toxins, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing the aggravation.

“The lungs are profoundly delicate to begin with,” Moad said, adding that lungs are assaulted with pollutants 24/7, and now they’re being bombarded with vaporized substances they’re not designed to handle.

Moad said some substances, such as oils, are perfectly fine when ingested other ways but can produce an inflammatory response in the lungs.

OSDH warns that electronic vaping products are not recommended for use by children, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products, the release states.

“There is no safe amount of nicotine exposure, and there is no e-cigarette product or vape device recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a cessation device.”

Moad recommended that everyone who uses electronic vapor products stop, at least momentarily, until officials can determine what is causing these illnesses and deaths.

“Historically, theoretically, (vaping) is better than smoking, but it’s not safe by any means,” Moad said. “It takes awhile for the damage of smoking cigarettes to reveal itself, but this stuff, whatever is happening is happening right away.

“There’s no control over it.”

OSDH officials urge those who use electronic vapor products as a method for quitting tobacco not to return to smoking cigarettes, saying they should opt instead for evidence-based treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved medications.

Those who need help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, should contact a health care provider or the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

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Kelsy Schlotthauer


Twitter: @K_Schlott

Staff Writer

Kelsy graduated Oklahoma State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and joined the Tulsa World in 2019. She covers breaking news and is passionate about people, social justice and law enforcement. Phone: (918) 581-8455