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In a media briefing on September 6, representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that possible vaping-related respiratory illnesses have more than doubled, rising to 450 possible cases in 33 states. Late last week, the CDC dropped the count from 450 possible cases to 380 confirmed and probable cases. Five suspected vaping-related deaths have also been reported.

No clear cause has been associated with the respiratory illnesses, though 80% of the patients reported using products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Sixty-one percent of patients said they used nicotine products, and 7% said they used cannabidiol (CBD) products.

The CDC says that no clear infectious cause has been identified, and while it’s likely that the illnesses are related to a chemical exposure, no product or substance has been identified that links all the cases. Some reports speculate that the illnesses are due to Vitamin E acetate, a byproduct of the vaping process, but the CDC emphasizes that this substance has not been established as a cause.

 

Recommendations

The CDC continues to investigate the recent illnesses, working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), public health officials, and clinicians. However, until a cause for recent illnesses is identified, the agency recommends that people consider not using any e-cigarette products. Those who do use e-cigarettes should monitor themselves closely for signs of illness such as cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. It also reiterates that “[e]-cigarette products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

The director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller, also recommends caution to those who use third-party vaping products purchased “off the street, out of the back of a car, out of a trunk, [or] in an alley.” He emphasizes that “if you are then going to go home and make modifications to the product yourself using something that you purchased from some third-party or got from a friend—think twice.”

 

E-Cigarettes Raising New Challenges

While more research is needed, it’s suspected that the perception of vaping as a “healthier” option than smoking cigarettes and the ease of access results in increased use.  Some users of e-cigarettes use them as a means to quit smoking, which has also fueled their growth.  However, the CDC notes that ‘while e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit some people and harm others, scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking.”

A further complication involves the successful legalization of cannabis in several states. When cannabis vaping products are easy to make and obtain, their use only increases.

Particularly concerning to parents and employers alike is the marketing of vaping products targeted to teens. In August, a 19-year-old man filed a suit against Juul Labs Inc. and Phillip Morris USA Inc. “for illegally marketing nicotine-delivery devices to minors and deceiving consumers about the risks of vaping.” For its part, Juul says on its website that its goal is to eliminate cigarettes and improve the lives of adult smokers, and that it “certainly [doesn’t] want youth using the product.” Juul has taken some steps toward discouraging teen use, including improving the age verification system on its website.

 

Smoking And Nicotine Addiction Still Affect Employers

The advent of the smoke-free workplaces and public space laws over the last few decades has pushed smokers outside for smoke breaks, but while sending smokers outside creates an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of mentality, the costs in lost productivity and smoking-related illness are still staggering. A 2013 study from Ohio State University suggests that each smoker costs employers an average of $5,800 per year and up to $10,125 per year. Most of those costs can be chalked up to lost productivity as a result of smoking breaks and increased absences.  This is why the CDC says “paying for tobacco use cessation treatment is the single most cost-effective health insurance benefit for adults that can be provided to employees."

It’s more important than ever for employers to keep offering smoking cessation programs. However, relying on free but ineffective solutions to help employees and their dependents quit smoking may only prolong the issues presented by smoking, vaping, and nicotine addiction. Employers should make sure their programs include specific resources to address e-cigarettes and resources for parents to help their children quit smoking.

Wellable partners with the EX Program, a digital smoking cessation program from the Truth Initiative, to help employees quit smoking. This program has helped over 800,000 participants move toward tobacco cessation, and it includes specific resources for e-cigarettes. Learn more.

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