Vaping Dangers Get Local Spotlight

With a woman in her 20s nearly dying from a lung condition at Huntington Hospital after vaping marijuana, local health officials and parents are increasing their voices of warning against vaping either marijuana or nicotine, while the outbreak of reported vape-related lung illnesses spreads across the country.

U.S. health officials, meanwhile, are investigating California’s first known death associated with vaping a marijuana product, as well as 10 other cases of lung injury that have been reported as potentially linked to the use of cannabis vapes.

National officials also are renewing their calls for people to avoid vaping until reasons for serious breathing illnesses related to the habit  are found. Across the country, 450 possible cases have been identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control, including as many as five deaths, across 33 states. The cases have involved both nicotine and marijuana, and a specific cause of the illnesses has not yet been found.

In California, officials have recorded 57 potential cases of acute lung disease among people with a recent history of vaping, beginning in June.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a crackdown Monday on illicitly manufactured  e-cigarettes with plans to launch a $20 million, state-sponsored public awareness campaign about the dangers.

Tony Abboud, the director of the Vaping Technology Association, which represents manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of vaping products, told the L.A. Times that he supported the governor’s call for cracking down on youth access to e-cigarettes.

“We stand ready to work with the governor and interested stakeholders on thoughtful and effective laws and regulations that restrict youth access and do not unfairly advantage combustible cigarettes,” said Abboud.

Dr. Daryl Banta, director of pulmonary and respiratory services at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. Photo courtesy of Huntington Hospital

Dr. Daryl Banta, director of pulmonary and respiratory services at Huntington Hospital, told the Review that vaping is a “cultural phenomenon we’re witnessing” and that he has seen animal studies and small studies with people that link injury of the lungs to some of the substances that are inhaled with the heated liquids in vapes — substances such as the oil vitamin E acetate, commonly used to thicken vape liquid.

He noted that vapes had a “certain coolness” with users, particularly with high school students.

“I think there’s been a culture of acceptance that this is healthy and it doesn’t cause some of the same things as cigarettes do, and so kids who are impressionable will hear, ‘It’s not as bad as cigarettes so that’s why I’m doing it,’ ” said Banta.

Banta noted that the hospital recently had a case in which a woman in her 20s who had started vaping was admitted into the intensive care unit with severe breathing issues.

“[She was] smoking nicotine, switched to a THC pen and developed an interstitial lung disease and almost died as a result of it,” said Banta, referring to the active ingredient in cannabis. “We’re even going to be publishing our case as a report. She’s one of several hundred in the nation that has had an adverse reaction to vaping.”

Banta supports the federal administration’s recently announced trial to ban flavored vapes in the youth population. While he said he supports adults in making their own decisions with vaping, he feels it should not be promoted with children. As a father to two children, aged 10 and 11, he said he personally feels they’re at an age group that is “very susceptible to the marketing ploys of the nicotine and THC industries” in their work to flavor vape-related compounds and drugs.

“Putting bubble gum flavor, cotton candy flavor and these ice cream flavors is something bordering on immoral to me because it truly is targeting a younger group of individuals that will stay committed to this habit or this addiction in the future,” said Banta.

“It’s the cigarette industry, the tobacco industry, using the same ploys that they did in the past to market to younger people so they can have more patients, or more customers, because their customers are dying off,” he continued. “From a medical standpoint and a parent standpoint, I think it’s pretty awful what’s been done.”

Banta recommended that if a person vapes and experiences a cough that persists more than two weeks with unusual chest pains and shortness of breath, they should consider that it may be related to vaping. He suggests they try to stop vaping or seek medical care.

At the Sept. 10 South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education meeting, Giselle Benitez, parent to a South Pasadena High School sophomore, raised news of the vaping deaths to the board and called for more action to warn students of vaping’s dangers. She called for funds to be channeled to assemblies specifically on vaping.

Gisella Benitez, mother to a South Pasadena High School sophomore, asked for more action in vaping prevention and shared vaping-related illness statistics with the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education, Sept. 10. Photo by Skye Hannah

“I agree that the situation starts at home … but I also believe it’s the school’s duty to educate the children, students, as early as middle school,” said Benitez. “We need to get into these kids’ faces and shock them to let them know that vaping kills.

“I know it’s hard to catch them, but we’ve got to do more,” she continued. “We cannot have a death happen in our schools and we didn’t do anything about it.”


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