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What Montana public health officials do and don't know about link between vaping and lung disease

State's first case reported in Yellowstone County
Posted at 7:33 PM, Sep 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-23 11:06:21-04

BILLINGS — On the heels of Montana's first vaping related illness state health officials are sharing what they do, and don't, know about "severe pulmonary disease" associated with vaping.

RiverStone Health CEO and Yellowstone County health officer John Felton spoke with Q2 on Friday.

"We do know that there's an association between the use of e-cigarettes and severe pulmonary disease," Felton said. "But what we don't know yet is what exactly that linkage is. Is it a specific causative agent? Is is a constellation of things?"

Many people diagnosed with severe pulmonary disease have a history of using vapes or e-cigarettes with nicotine and THC. People's use of the two compounds at the same time makes it harder for doctors to identify where the disease comes from.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis.

Federal health officials have identified 530 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use of vaping as of Sept. 17.

Doctors have not yet established a link of what in the process of vaping nicotine or THC causes "severe pulmonary disease."

“We don’t know all of what goes into patients getting severe pulmonary disease," Felton said. "The link is the use of e-cigarettes. My understanding is what we are calling severe pulmonary disease is sort of an unnamed condition that is related to the use of vaping devices. It’s sort of the working diagnosis, if you will.”

Montana health officials are sharing the information they've learned with federal officials to pin down what is causing the disease.

“With 500 cases, it’s relatively small in the big sense of trying to understand disease. We can get a lot of information from each individual person. Really looking at history. In this case looking at how long people have been using e-cigarette devices. What type of materials have they used in the e-fluids," Felton said.

Severe pulmonary disease symptoms:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Symptoms can worsen over a period of days or weeks. Felton urged people who vape and are experiencing these symptoms to stop vaping and contact their doctor.

Businesses that sell e-cigarette products have criticized portrayals in the media of the link between vaping and severe pulmonary disease.

Vaping advocates say the Centers for Disease Control has created unwarranted public panic about by the safety of e-cigarette products.

Q2 reached out to one shop in Billings for comment, but the business owner declined our request.