RACINE COUNTY — Amid the growing popularity of vaping as an alternative to smoking, Racine County health officials have issued a warning after the Wisconsin Department of Health Services discovered severe lung disease in several teens who said they had been vaping.
“E-cigarette and vaping products can contain toxic chemicals that can damage lungs and impact brain development,” said Margaret Gesner, a health officer from the Central Racine County Health Department.
During July, eight cases of severe pulmonary disease in adolescents were reported to DHS in patients from Milwaukee, Waukesha and Winnebago counties. Patients had respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, which worsened over a period of days or weeks before they were admitted to the hospital.
Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Meiman of the DHS said in a published report that it’s unclear what exactly the teenagers admitted to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa had inhaled. He says in early interviews teens mentioned nicotine and THC, the component of marijuana that intoxicates users.
Many of the teens responded to steroid treatment and were released without the need for supplemental oxygen at home. As of Friday, one remained hospitalized.
The office of the U.S. surgeon general has said that e-cigarettes contain harmful ingredients such as heavy metals, nicotine, flavorants linked to lung disease and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The names and types of products the patients used are not known.
“Because these products are still new, the long-term health effects are not fully understood,” said Dottie-Kay Bowersox, Racine Public Health Department public health administrator.
“E-cigarette companies target youth in a variety of ways including use of kid friendly flavors, celebrity endorsements and packaging that mimics candy and snack foods,” the city-county news release said. “Brain development continues until age 25, putting children at greater risk for permanent brain damage, developing addictions, and becoming addicted to other substances.”
The Associated Press also contributed to this article.