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A Mystery Illness: The CDC Invesitgates


Since the end of June, nearly 153 cases of a respiratory illness with lung damage have quickly spread across 16 states. The illness has a cluster of common symptoms: shortness of breath; fatigue; chest pain; a cough; and weight loss. Most of the people affected so far are teens and young adults, but some older people have begun to be affected as well. Many of the sick require hospitalization, some in the intensive care unit, and some even on ventilators to assist with their breathing. While the illness at first presents like a typical respiratory infection, it quickly develops into something much worse, and treatment with antibiotics does not seem to help. What does? Steroids, which suggests an inflammatory component to the illness. So far, there is no evidence that an infectious disease is involved.

What is involved in all of these cases? Vaping. E-cigarettes. All of the people affected with this illness vaped prior to getting ill. But so far, doctors cannot determine whether the e-cigarette device, the ingredients used, or some contaminants in the pods are making people sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating with health departments in at least 5 states (CA, IL, IN, MN and Wi), to determine a cause.


Needless to say, those with a stake in the e-cigarette industry are pointing fingers at pods that may have been tampered with or have illegal drugs in them. Some of those stricken with the respiratory illness did, in fact, vape from pods bought on the street, or from so-called “home brews” that contained mixtures of substances, including THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. But health officials are not satisfied that these mixtures explain the almost 155 cases and counting of respiratory illnesses and lung damage. They point to the fact that e-cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA, and because they have only been on the market for approximately 15 years in the United States, there are no long-term studies on whether they are safe. “When you have millions of kids inhaling this cocktail of chemicals that were never tested for inhalation safety, this type of headline is predictable and also avoidable,” according to Environmental Health Scientist Joseph Allen at Harvard University.

The fact that we have gone down this road before with Big Tobacco should have made us wiser. Due to the immense profits in the tobacco industry, the link between traditional cigarettes and lung cancer was hidden for decades. Studies and research were manipulated, warning labels were not required for a long time, and advertising targeted young people, ensuring that addiction was a multigenerational issue. With e-cigarettes there are no long-term studies, there are no warning labels required, and there is plenty of targeting of youth with flavored pods such as bubble gum, chocolate, and strawberry. Furthermore, with as many as 10 million people vaping and profits in the billions, e-cigarettes are every bit the big business Big Tobacco was and still is.


“Nobody knows what it does to the human lung to breathe in and out aerosolized propylene glycol and glycerin over and over. It’s an experiment, frankly.” Dr. Robert Jackler, founder of Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising stated concerning the recent cases of respiratory illnesses. The experiment may leave millions at risk of illness and lung damage.

The industry touts vaping as a way to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, maintaining that e-cigarettes are safer than combustible, tobacco cigarettes. But just because they are safer does not mean that they are safe.


If you or someone you know has become ill after vaping, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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