Vape Illness Cases in Arizona Rise to 13 as National Count Eclipses 2,000

Thirteen Arizona residents have now gotten sick from vaping, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Thirteen Arizona residents have now gotten sick from vaping, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. via Flickr
The number of Arizona residents who have fallen ill from vaping has risen to 13, up from 12 last week, the Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed on Wednesday.

Chris Minnick, the agency's public information officer, said little information is known about the newest patient.

"We know that the patient was hospitalized," he said. "We just learned about the case on Monday."

The additional case comes as the number of nationwide cases of a mysterious vaping-related illness climbs above 2,000. A Thursday tally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 2,051 people nationwide have gotten sick from vaping, with 39 deaths.

The CDC reports that all the cases it has investigated nationwide involve patients with a history of using vaping products, and that most patients reported a history of using products containing THC.

As the nationwide data mount, little information has been released about the patients in Arizona.

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It also warns users to avoid THC products obtained off the street or from illicit dealers, saying these types of vape products are "linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak."

But as the nationwide data mount, little information has been released about the patients in Arizona.

Minnick told Phoenix New Times that 70 percent of the state's 13 cases involve male patients, while 30 percent involve female patients. He revealed that the age range of the patients is 16 to 57.

But he could not immediately provide demographic or medical information about where the patients were hospitalized, whether they were using products containing THC, or whether they were using black-market products, citing risk of the patients potentially being identified.

"We do collect health information, age, gender, stuff that’s on a medical record, but the numbers are so low," Minnick said. "When you’re talking just a few cases … you can put all those pieces together."

Meanwhile, vape industry leaders in the state are trying to assure their customers that their products are vetted and safe, as sales in nicotine vape shops have dropped sharply.

At least one 16-year-old, Samantha Ford from Phoenix, nearly died from her vaping-related injuries last month, but data from East Valley school districts suggest Arizona's teens are still vaping in high numbers.

A ruling is also expected within days from the FDA, which announced in September it would ban all flavored vape products besides tobacco-flavored products, but so far has yet to do so.

When that ban was first announced, Steve Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance, said it would be a death sentence for the state's nicotine vape industry, which generates some $400 million for the state.

"We're all filing bankruptcy," he said on September 12. "It's done."

New Times has filed a public records request with the Arizona Department of Health Services for more information about the 13 patients in the state, but is still awaiting data.
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Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.