E-cigarettes are the suspected cause of at least six deaths and nearly 500 more people becoming ill nationwide in recent months, giving even more reason to avoid these products.

Typically, victims arrived at hospitals short of breath, feverish, vomiting and nauseated. Symptoms also included anorexia, fatigue, chest and/or stomach pain and diarrhea.

People quickly ended up on ventilators in hospital intensive care.

The illnesses were reported to the Center for Disease Control and didn’t involve one certain brand of e-cigarette, but the 20-plus cases in North Carolina were people who used vape pens.

Vaping, short for vaporization, generally refers to the practice of inhaling vapor produced by battery-powered cigarettes (e-cigs), vape pens or advanced personal vaporizers.

There are many variations of e-cigarettes, but JUUL is the most popular among teens because of its many flavors. Many youths don’t realize that all JUUL “pods” contain nicotine. The maker of the product says one such pod has as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.

The FDA reports around 3 million high school students nationwide used e-cigarettes in 2018, a 78% increase in one year. An estimated 600,000 middle-schoolers tried them. A big reason is the hundreds of flavor options.

Researchers are scrambling for answers, but e-cigarettes with the addition of cannabinoid products like THC or e-cigarettes with CDB and vitamin E acetate oil have been found in suspected samples.

Vaping is defended as a less deadly alternative to tobacco cigarettes, but that’s a low bar considering tobacco-related illnesses kill 7 million people a year worldwide. E-cigarettes may lack the tars and other pollutants of tobacco cigarettes, but they’re laden with extremely addictive nicotine.

Researchers also have found carcinogens, metals and diacetyl in e-cigs, which scar the lungs.

The best thing to say about e-cigarette products is that no comprehensive data on long-term health risks are known yet because they haven’t been around long enough.

No e-cigarette has been found to be safe and effective by FDA in helping smokers quit.

Federal and state health officials are urging people to consider not using e-cigarette products – at least while the investigation is ongoing.

Youth and young adults shouldn’t use e-cigarette products. Period. The same is true for women who are pregnant. Adults who don’t now use tobacco products would be foolish to start using e-cigarettes.

In particular, don’t buy these products off the street and never modify them or add any substances that aren’t intended by the manufacturer.

Adult smokers who want to quit should use treatments such as QuitlineNC, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or talk to a doctor.

If you are concerned about your health after using an e-cigarette product, contact your doctor or you can also call a poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

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