LIHUE — The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is investigating the state’s first report of a possible case of vaping-associated severe respiratory illness in a resident under the age of 18 on Hawaii Island.
The serious lung injury was reported earlier this week and health officials are aggressively gathering patient information to determine the cause of the illness. The individual is currently hospitalized and still receiving treatment for their symptoms.
It’s a growing trend — according to the CDC more than 450 potential or confirmed cases of severe lung injury associated with vaping have been reported, including at least six deaths, in 33 states and one U.S. Territory.
In Hawaii, data from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey and Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that 25.5 percent of high school students currently smoke e-cigarettes, which is twice the national average. Hawaii is second in the nation for e-cigarette use amongst high school students, just behind Colorado.
DOH continues to urge physicians to be on alert for signs of severe respiratory illness among patients who recently used vaping products, including e-cigarettes and THC products, and report any cases.
Today, DOH sent a medical advisory with guidance to all physicians statewide. To date, there have been no confirmed cases in Hawaii of lung injuries associated with vaping.
“We are cautioning people about using e-cigarettes and advise against using unregulated THC-containing vaping products,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson. “We are monitoring the situation locally and nationally, and coordinating with federal and state partners to stay up-to-date on the latest information available.”
According to an update from CDC, evidence suggests the lung illnesses are likely linked to a chemical exposure, but the investigation has not identified any single product or substance common to all cases of acute severe pulmonary disease associated with vaping.
In Hawaii, campaigns like 808NoVape work to inspire students to stop vaping, or never to start, but according to the Hawaii Youth Survey which calculated vaping usage in 2017, kids are still using vape products.
According to their data, 27.6% of Kauai middle school students said they tried electronic vapor products. Compare that to 32.1% of Hawaii Island middle school students, 24.5% of Honolulu County students, and 30.9% of Maui County middle school students.
At the high school level, Hawaii Youth Survey reports 45.2% of Kauai high school students have tried electronic vapor products. Maui County high school students come in at 51.1%, Honolulu County reports 41% and Hawaii County reports 49.2% of high school students trying vape products.
About half of the students are sticking with the smoke, too, according to the data. HYS reports 24% of Kauai high school students are currently using vape products — the study reported students who used electronic vapor products at least one day during the 30 days before the survey.
Valerie Saiki, Hawaii Public Health Institute Kauai Community Coordinator, points out vaping has been trending in several ways — people vape by itself or use vaping in an attempt to quit cigarettes.
Students, many times, haven’t been smoking cigarettes, they just vape — and some of them are potentially getting sick from it.
“Vaping doesn’t have much (in terms of) review or studies and now there’s a group of people who are trying (exclusively) vaping,” Saiki said. “They’re the guinea pigs.”
Symptoms of acute severe pulmonary disease associated with vaping or use of an e-cigarette device may include: cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever. Anyone who uses e-cigarette products should monitor themselves for symptoms and promptly seek medical attention for any health concerns.
DOH advises people to avoid e-cigarette products off the street and not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer.
People should avoid vaping illicit THC products, too, as the available evidence from other states shows many of the injury cases had exposure to such products, according to DOH. E-cigarette products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.