Illinois Department of Public Health investigates cases of vaping-linked illness


Daily file photo by Owen Stidman

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks to a group of Northwestern students in the spring. The Illinois Department of Public Health is investigating 13 individuals who have experienced severe breathing problems after vaping.

Kalen Luciano, Reporter

The Illinois Department of Public Health is investigating 13 individuals who have experienced severe breathing problems after vaping, following 69 reported cases of people suffering from respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.

The use of e-cigarettes and vaping products recently surpassed conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product among young people — the age range of most affected by the vaping-linked respiratory illness. People who experience any type of chest pain or difficulty breathing after vaping in the weeks or months prior to these symptoms are told to seek immediate medical attention by IDPH.

“The short- and long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, but these recent hospitalizations have shown that there is the potential for immediate health consequences,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.

Though there have been no cases reported to Evanston Health and Human Services, most of the cases have been found in the northeastern part of the state, which includes Evanston. The department is going to community festivals and fairs in Evanston to raise awareness about the epidemic and the potential dangers of vaping, said Ike Ogbo, the interim director of Evanston Health and Human Services.

Vaping is treated the same way as other tobacco products in Evanston. Illinois law prohibits the purchase of tobacco products for people under 21, but Evanston bans those under 21 from selling as well. Under the Clean Air Act, restrictions on vaping prohibit smoking in public areas and businesses.

These restrictions extend to Evanston schools. According to IDPH, 42 percent of U.S. and Illinois high school students reported using an electronic vaping product in 2017 — double the number of those smoking cigarettes 10 years ago.

At Evanston Township High School, the focus is on educating students about the health risks associated with vaping. Though it is against school rules and there are consequences for vaping on school property, it’s difficult to keep track and enforce this policy.

“We do not have vaping detectors. We have 1.3 million square feet in our school located on 65 acres,” the ETHS communications office said in an emailed statement to The Daily. “It would require countless detectors and still would not stop students from vaping in other settings away from school where they spend most of their lives.”

The vaping-linked illness isn’t just limited to Illinois. Federal officials reported that there have been at least 530 cases in 38 states as of Thursday.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) learned of the first Illinois resident who died from the nationwide outbreak.

“I am angry because that fatality and the others that have followed it were preventable,” Schakowsky said in an email to The Daily.

IDPH is working with local health departments, other states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the names, origins and types of vaping products linked to this illness. The department plans to use this information to determine which chemicals led to these respiratory illnesses.

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