8 Wisconsin teens suffered serious lung damage after vaping

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (WBAY) - Children's Hospital of Wisconsin says eight teenagers from around the state were hospitalized this month with seriously damaged lungs.

All of the teens, who are from Winnebago, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties reported vaping in the weeks and months prior.

"People have been smoking for many years, and over time they develop effects from it. This is different. This is acute," Dr. Louella Amos of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin said.

The teens reported experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, a cough and weight loss from vomiting and diarrhea, hospital officials said.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Meiman with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it's unclear what exactly the teenagers admitted to Children's Hospital had inhaled. He says in early interviews teens mentioned nicotine and THC, the part of marijuana that gives its high.

Many of the teens responded to steroid treatment and were released without the need for supplemental oxygen at home. One remained hospitalized.

"Our eyes are open and we have not seen anyone else besides these eight so far," Dr. Amos said.

The state is investigating the exact cause of their lung damage and confirm whether the vaping devices are to blame.

As vaping and e-cigarettes grow in popularity, especially among teenagers, doctors at Children's Hospital are raising concerns.

"The parents, like all of us, want answers. They want to know what's causing this. Is there something that should be done? Is there something we need to do from a public health perspective?" Chief Medical Officer Michael Gutzeit said.

According to the CDC, 3.6 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes last year. Doctors say the long-term effects remain unknown because vaping products are so new.

Children's Hospital says parents and teenagers need to be aware of the potential danger. E-cigarette cartridges can contain toxic chemicals which have been shown to damage lungs.

The hospital says the chemicals can be especially dangerous to children since their lungs are still developing.

"The Centers for Disease Control has reported a 78 percent increase in vaping in teenagers over the past few years, so there is an exponential increase in the use of these products, and the concern of course is we don't know the short-term or long-term impact, on teenagers especially,"
Dr. Gutzeit said.

Doctors hope that this warning will open the door for additional dialogue between parents and their kids about vaping.

The American Lung Association issued a statement after learning about the hospitalizations urging state lawmakers to treat electronic cigarettes like tobacco products.

The American Lung Association has always held the position that e-cigarette use is NOT safe, especially by youth whose lungs are still developing. E-cigarettes contain chemicals, heavy metals and fine particulates. The candy and fruit-flavorings that so many youth find appealing also contain chemicals known to cause irreparable lung damage. These flavorings are designed to tempt kids and give the false impression that e-cigarettes are safe. Contrary to what the industry would have them believe, e-cigarettes are not simply harmless water vapor.

Wisconsin had made enormous strides in reducing smoking rates but now faces a new generation of nicotine addiction among our youth. We call on lawmakers to act swiftly to enact laws to turn the tide on this growing epidemic – raising the legal purchase of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes to 21, adding e-cigarettes to the states smoke free air law and taxing e-cigarettes the same as regular combustible cigarettes.

Copyright 2019 WBAY. The Associated Press contributed to this report.