Arizona Vape Illness Cases Jump to 17 as Lawmakers Plot Ways to Curb E-Cig Use

Three more people in Arizona have been hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses as of November 20.
Three more people in Arizona have been hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses as of November 20. sarahjohnson1 via Pixabay
Three new cases of vaping-related illnesses were reported in Arizona this week, bringing the state total to 17 as of today, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The announcement comes a day after State Senator Heather Carter, a Republican from Cave Creek, announced she'd try again next year to pass legislation that would raise the age for buying vaping products to 21, and classify them as tobacco, which would prohibit their use indoors.

Other lawmakers have announced plans to regulate vaping in the state as well, including Democratic State Senator Martin Quezada, who says he wants to limit the advertising of vaping products around schools and other areas where children are present.

Concerns about vaping have reached a high as researchers try to discern what's causing lung injuries so severe that one study author likened them to the chemical fume burns experienced by soldiers in the first and second World Wars.

Nationwide, the injuries have led to over 2,100 hospitalizations and 42 deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The CDC has warned people to avoid THC-containing vape products and identified the chemical vitamin E acetate — sometimes found in illicit vaping products — as one potential culprit. But ADHS so far has not released information about what was in products used by patients in the state.

Chris Minnick, public information officer for the state DHS, cites HIPAA concerns as the reason for not releasing more context around the state's patients.

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

But he said ADHS is meeting this week to discuss what kinds of contextual information could be released in order to better inform Arizonans and regulators in the state.

He also said since reporting vape illness cases is voluntary for doctors, additional cases likely have happened that the DHS doesn't know about. In order to ensure the state records all cases, ADHS is working on creating resources for care providers to help them identify potential cases.

The federal government appears to have backed off a proposed ban on flavored vape products, which it announced in September as an attempt to curb teen vaping. News outlets reported that President Donald Trump changed plans after learning that a ban could harm his chances in the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, medical experts continue to discourage the use of vaping products. The American Medical Association on Tuesday called for a ban on all e-cigarette products.

“The recent lung illness outbreak has alarmed physicians and the broader public health community and shined a light on the fact that we have very little evidence about the short- and long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes and vaping products," the group's president, Dr. Patrice Harris, said in a statement.
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Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.