Joseph Kasko

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — An Alabama man has become the state’s first death related to lung disease associated with vaping, officials announced Wednesday (Oct. 2).

It’s the 17th vaping-related death in the U.S. after officials in Virginia and New Jersey announced confirmed cases the day before (Oct. 1).

Amanda Harris, reporter for The Herald in Rock Hill, spoke with the Palmetto Report to discuss the issue and its impact in South Carolina.

Harris covers health and education in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. In February, she reported on students in Clover who were caught vaping in school.

So far, vaping-related deaths have been reported in 14 states, including California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oregon.

Harris said she thinks the recent deaths may encourage people to think twice about using electronic-cigarettes.

“I think more awareness is needed, so people understand that these (e-cigarettes) are not safe, even though they’re not a regular cigarette,” she said.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control said last week there were 805 confirmed and probable cases of illness linked to the use of e-cigarettes in 46 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That is up from the 530 cases the CDC reported the week before.

As of Sept. 12, the agency said it was already researching some 380 lung related illnesses associated with e-cigarettes.

At the time of the taping of this podcast, a Missouri man and a man in California had become seventh and eighth deaths related to vaping.

Harris said Keystone Substance Abuse Services in Rock Hill is warning people, especially youth, about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

“There is a misconception that vaping or e-cigarettes is just water vapor, so there’s not a lot of health risks associated with them,” said Harris. “That is what is what these kids are thinking, that they’re safer than regular cigarettes.”

However, she said e-cigarettes contain many chemicals that can lead to a number of different pulmonary health risks.

“Keystone has done surveys, specifically in the York County area, and they have found that this is a bigger problem with youth. E-cigarettes were meant to target adults, age 18 and older who were using regular cigarettes, to wean them off of those,” she said. “But (Keystone) has found they’re actually being used by middle school and high school students and a lot of people under the age of 18.”

The York County All on Board Coalition conducted a survey in 2017, of seventh-, ninth- and eleventh-grade students, to examine their drug use and perceptions.

It found that 11 percent of students admitted to using e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey and more than 44 percent said they felt there is little to no risk to vaping.

“We know it is happening in schools across our region,” said Harris. “Keystone has interviewed students and they know it’s happening.”

Currently, Winthrop University policy treats vaping just like smoking.