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California man is seventh person to die of suspected vape-related illness

Officials in Utah said they don’t know whether the illnesses are associated with the e-cigarette devices, or with specific ingredients or contaminants inhaled. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Health officials in California confirmed that another patient has died of a vaping-related illness — at least the seventh reported death associated with a national outbreak of serious lung disease related to vaping or using e-cigarettes.

The unnamed Tulare County man died of “complications related to the use of e-cigarettes,” according to the county Health and Human Services Agency. The 40-year-old had been in the hospital for “several weeks” before his death, said department spokeswoman Jan Winslow. He had a history of vaping, though Winslow said officials were still investigating what products he used.

Though his death certificate would state he died due to vaping, Winslow said the man also had “some complicating illnesses” that she could not disclose to The Post.

Garrett Vanni, a family member, said the man died on Saturday. The man had been using both nicotine e-cigarettes and THC vape products, said Vanni. Contrary to what the health department spokeswoman said, the man became ill only two days before he died, Vanni said. He drove himself to the hospital.

“They put him on a breathing machine because he was unable to breathe,” Vanni said.

The doctor told family members the death was due to vaping, Vanni said. Family gathered vaping products from the man’s home and his car. One product they found in his car was a black box with gold lettering and the words “Lucky Charms,” a brand of THC vape pen cartridge, Vanni said.

The death was announced Monday, the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) took executive action to crack down on e-cigarette use in California, where at least one other vaping-related fatality has been reported, in Los Angeles County.

Health officials in Tulare County did not disclose the patient’s age or the type of e-cigarette product this person had used. So far, the county has had three reports of pulmonary illness linked to vaping, the health department said.

The California case came a week after the death of a Kansas resident, which was believed to be the sixth such death nationwide. Health officials in Indiana, Illinois, Oregon and Minnesota have also reported fatalities from sudden-onset illnesses that officials linked to vaping.

Several of these cases have involved a middle-aged or older person.

What we know about the mysterious vaping-linked illness and deaths

At least 380 cases of lung illness have been reported, according to the last available tally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All reported cases had a history of using vape pens, and most of them had reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC.

Patients reported symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and in some instances, vomiting or diarrhea.

However, the CDC cautions that health experts do not yet know the cause of these illnesses and have not isolated a single e-cigarette product as the underlying culprit. The agency said there has been no evidence of a common infectious cause, and therefore they suspect that a form of chemical exposure has made the patients ill.

Officials have rushed to respond to a sudden rash of respiratory illnesses among otherwise healthy people who have used e-cigarettes or other vaping products. Last week, President Trump announced that his administration would move to ban most e-cigarettes. On Tuesday, New York state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council voted to ban flavored e-cigarettes with immediate effect.

On Monday, Newsom ordered state officials to “reduce youth vaping consumption” and allocated $20 million for a campaign to raise awareness among youth.

Newsom lacks the power to ban flavored vaping products without legislative action, but he intends to work with state lawmakers to do so, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“We’ve seen a skyrocket increase in the use of these flavored products by our children,” Newsom said at a news conference. “As a father of four, this has been an issue that’s been brought to the forefront of my consciousness.”

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