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First Death Linked To Vaping Reported In U.S.

Health officials in the U.S have reported what could be the country's first death linked to vaping, as they investigate almost 200 possible cases of associated severe lung illnesses.

Officials on Friday said an adult patient in Illinois died after developing a severe respiratory illness that appears to be associated with the use of e-cigarettes.

Chief Medical Officer from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Dr Jennifer Layden, said the department received a report of the death on Thursday from an "unexplained" illness, and confirmed the patient had recently vaped.

No further details were provided on the patient's age, gender or vaping activity, nor the product that was smoked, as officials work to learn the cause of death.

It's one of 22 cases the IDPH is reporting of people, aged between 17 and 38 years, who have experienced respiratory illness after using e-cigarettes.

vaping
Photo: Getty

As of Thursday, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention is investigating 193 potential cases reported across 22 states.

"We are saddened to hear of the first death related to the outbreak of severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarettes or 'vaping' devices," CDC Director Robert Redfield said.

"CDC's investigation is ongoing. We are working with state and local health departments and FDA to learn the cause or causes of this ongoing outbreak."

Redfield said the tragic death reinforces the "serious risks" associated with e-cigarette products.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices designed to mimic smoking, but do not contain tobacco or create smoke.

The tobacco industry has in recent years introduced a range of e-products, including electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) which diffuse a liquid containing nicotine, a mixture of chemicals such as propylene glycol or glycerine and flavouring. That liquid is heated into a vapour, which the user inhales.

READ MORE: Quitting Aid Or Slippery Slope? Experts Divided Over Health Risks Of Vaping 

While they're described as a less dangerous alternative to smoking, some health experts and bodies claim they contain substances that have implications for lung health.

"CDC has been warning about the identified and potential health dangers since they first appeared on the market -- particularly for children and young people," CDC's Redfield said.

"Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents."

"E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products."

The warning comes as public health officials collate data to investigate the cause up to 193 cases of contracted severe respiratory illnesses linked to vaping.

"Even though cases appear similar, it isn’t clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar presentations," Dr Illeana Arias, CDC's Acting Deputy Director of Non-Infectious Diseases, said.

"Investigators have not identified any product or compound linked to all cases."

Vaping devices. Photo: AP

Many of the cases, particularly among young adults, involved products containing THC -- the main active compound in cannabis -- which the American Vaping Association has singled out as being to blame.

READ MORE: Are E-Cigarettes Really Safer Than Regular Smokes? 

READ MORE: Toddler's Tragic Death Sparks Divisive Liquid Nicotine Debate

State departments are working with CDC to test their patient specimens and e-cigarette products.

Mitch Zeller, Director of the FDA's Centre for Tobacco Products, said the agency is also investigating  the brand and type of vaping products and devices used and whether they "fall within FDA's regulatory authority".

He cautioned jumping to conclusions as authorities try to "piece together the facts"

"I think it’s important for everybody to understand that as closely as the federal agencies and the state health departments have been working together, we find ourselves in the early stages of these investigations," he said.

Featured image: Getty

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au