Montana Reports First Death from Vaping-Related Illness

Death is first in Montana and 27th nationwide connected to outbreak that has sickened more than 1,200

By Andy Viano
A assortment of vaping devices sits inside a glass case at D's Vapor Plus in Evergreen on Oct 11. 2019. Hunter D'Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services announced on Wednesday that it had identified the state’s first death related to a nationwide outbreak of illnesses associated with e-cigarette use, also called vaping, the 27th such death nationwide.

DPHHS officials identified the deceased as “an individual in their late teens with a history of vaping” and did not disclose any other personal information, including where the individual lived. The case was identified on Oct. 15.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified 1,299 cases of Vaping Associated Pulmonary Illness (VAPI) nationwide as of Oct. 8, spanning 49 different states. The death reported on Wednesday marks the third person to have been identified as suffering from VAPI in Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock used emergency rules to enact a 120-day emergency ban on flavored vaping liquids on Oct. 8 in response to the outbreak, making Montana the sixth state to enact such a ban. The state ban will go into effect on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

E-cigarette use came to prominence in the United States in the mid-2000s and has been used by cigarette smokers to help wean off of nicotine, the addictive substance found in cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved vaping as a method to quit smoking, however, and Montana DPHHS adds that “e-cigarettes are not a legitimate smoking cessation tool.”

The ban on flavored products includes liquids derived from cannabis (THC and CBD) and tobacco (nicotine-based), and vaping advocates say the ban will unfairly harm ex-smokers despite no direct connection between nicotine vaping liquids and VAPI. The groups point to the fact that most instances of VAPI have been connected to THC products, and many from black-market sales. The CDC said on Oct. 11 that THC-based vaping products “are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.” The DPHHS did not reveal whether the death reported Wednesday was connected to nicotine- or cannabis-based vaping liquids, or a combination of the two.

In a press release on Wednesday, DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman noted that there is still much uncertainly about what is causing the spate of vaping-related illnesses, a condition that includes coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue.

“During this time, we highly recommend that people refrain from any vaping products,” Holzman wrote.

The state urges anyone who vapes and is experiencing respiratory issues to contact their health care provider. More information on the outbreak of VAPI can be found on a dedicated CDC website.

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