Marijuana e-cigarette tied to Oregon’s 1st suspected vaping death, officials say

A death in Oregon that may be linked to vaping would be the state’s first fatality in what health officials described as a “national outbreak” of severe lung illnesses.

The person died of a severe respiratory illness in July after using an e-cigarette vaping device that burned cannabis, Oregon Health Authority officials said in a news release Tuesday.

Officials said the symptoms of the person who died “were consistent with those of more than 200 similar cases in a national cluster of respiratory illness, mostly affecting teenagers and young adults, in at least 25 states.” Doctors should be on the lookout for symptoms of severe respiratory illness in patients who vape, health officials advised.

“We don’t yet know the exact cause of these illnesses — whether they’re caused by contaminants, ingredients in the liquid or something else, such as the device itself,” Dr. Ann Thomas, public health physician at OHA’s Public Health Division, said in a statement.

Thomas described the person who died as “a middle-aged Oregonian” in an audio recording released Tuesday. Thomas also said “this individual was consuming a THC preparation purchased at a dispensary.”

Symptoms of the illness include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and cough — and though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not named a cause of the outbreak, each sufferer had vaped before falling ill, according to Oregon officials.

“They’ve all had infectious causes ruled out,” Thomas said of the illnesses. “It’s not a pneumonia.”

Health officials said last month that a lung disease death in Illinois was considered the first U.S. death linked to vaping, which has grown increasingly common among young people, the Associated Press reported. Nicotine products can be vaped, but nearly all of the three dozen vaping-linked illnesses reported recently in Wisconsin were tied to THC products, according to AP.

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Health officials said people who have “recently used vaping products such as e-cigarettes and are having difficulty breathing should seek medical attention immediately.”

Thomas said that “we want the public to know this is a real danger … young people, pregnant people, people who are not already vaping should not vape.”

The Oregonian reported in late August that doctors at Providence Health were investigating a July death that might have been part of the vaping illness outbreak, but a spokesperson said at the time that “we don’t have any conclusions yet.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.