Washington had its first confirmed case of severe lung disease related to vaping on Wednesday – the same day President Donald Trump announced a plan to ban flavored e-cigarette liquid.
“I think it was just a matter of time until we saw it here in Washington state,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane Regional Board of Health officer. “Here in Spokane, we are actually investigating four different cases based upon CDC criteria.”
The Spokane patients – ages 16, 18 and 22, as well as a person of unknown age in their 30s – were treated in August and have been released, but their cases are still open in coordination with a multistate probe by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“We have access to emergency department data from Multicare and Providence,” Lutz said. “Department of Health – based upon the CDC criteria that came out two weeks ago – queried the system. They went back a number of weeks and they said, ‘OK, Bob, these are four cases that occurred in August, could you look into them further?’ ”
Washington’s confirmed case is a male in his late teens, who was treated and released from a King County hospital in early August, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Seattle and King County public health officer. The patient reported vaping for three years, but did not report using THC in his device.
This component of his case deviated from the norm, Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said. In the majority of the cases nationally, patients reported using a product containing THC.
Lofy said last week that Gov. Jay Inslee asked for policy options from the Department of Health, including banning flavored e-liquid.
“We’re not waiting for the federal government, but are moving ahead with the governor’s request,” Lofy said.
Following Trump’s announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the FDA would develop guidelines to remove all flavors aside from tobacco flavor, the Associated Press reported. The move responded to a recent surge in underage vaping that has alarmed parents, politicians and health authorities nationwide.
Federal health officials said Wednesday that preliminary data shows more than 1 in 4 high school students reported vaping this year, compared with 1 in 5 students in 2018. Federal health officials have called the trend an “epidemic,” and they fear teenagers who vape will eventually start smoking.
San Francisco banned the sale of all e-cigarettes in June, going further than the Trump administration plan announced Wednesday. But cities in Washington can’t follow suit because of state pre-emption regarding controlled substances.
If Spokane were able to enforce such a complete ban on its own, doing so certainly would have been on the table, Lutz said. And he said he’s optimistic a statewide ban will come soon.
“I think it’s exciting that Dr. Lofy talked about the fact that Gov. Inslee is interested in doing this, because it needs to come from the governor’s office, it can’t come from Spokane City Council or the county commissioners,” Lutz said.
Matthew Perrone of the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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