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Montana teen dies from vaping illness, health department says
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Montana teen dies from vaping illness, health department says


A teenager has died from vaping illness in Montana, the state health department reported Wednesday.

The Montana Department of Public Heath and Human Services said it is the first death in Montana associated with illness caused by the use of e-cigarettes, also called vaping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have warned consumers to stop using THC vaping products as lung illnesses have been reported around the country. The CDC also recommends people consider refraining from using e-cigarettes that contain nicotine.

There have been three identified cases of vaping-associated pulmonary illness in the state, including the death reported Wednesday. 

The first vaping illness in Montana was reported in September in Yellowstone County, with that person between 30-40 years old and a history of vaping nicotine and THC. The second case announced was in Gallatin County, with that person reported to be in their 20s with a history of vaping nicotine.

Earlier this month, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enacted emergency rules, which take effect Oct. 22, to ban flavored e-cigarette products

The case of the death reported Wednesday has been under investigation since Tuesday, the health department said in a press release. 

The teen had a history of vaping. Information about the person's age and where they lived was not provided. 

“Currently, with this case, we still don’t know the exact products this individual was using. What we do know, is the individual had a history of vaping. The investigation is ongoing and we’re trying to find exact answers to those questions,” said Jon Ebelt, spokesman for the health department.

Ebelt said the Montana cases are part of an ongoing national investigation. He said it would be premature “to speculate from one individual case a specific cause and effect from naming substances, products, purchasing site, devices, etc.”

Asked for more details about the person who died, the state health department said Wednesday in an email that "releasing more specific information such as the county or an exact age would likely make the person identifiable for HIPAA purposes when considered in conjunction with other reasonably available information."

"DPHHS must not only adhere to the HIPAA privacy rule, but we’re also respecting the families’ privacy at this time," the department said.

Nationwide, 1,299 lung injury cases associated with vaping have been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also reported 26 deaths in 21 states as of last week. These cases are associated with the use of nicotine and THC products.

The ban by Bullock, a Democrat, is on flavored products that are marketed toward younger consumers.

The state medical officer, Dr. Greg Holzman, said in a press release it's still not clear what specifically causes vaping-associated illness.

“During this time, we highly recommend that people refrain from any vaping products,” Holzman said.

Vape shop owners around the state have expressed frustration with the ban, saying it hurts their business. A group of owners, the Montana Smoke Free Association trade group, has said it will try to block the ban in court.

The most recent Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey published this year, which sampled 3,879 high school students in 47 public high schools, found 58.3% of students had used vaping products.

The rate went along with a student's age, with 43.7% of freshman having tried vaping while 67.5% of seniors had. Hispanic and Native students were also more likely to have vaped, with 67.2% of Hispanic students and 65.7% of Native students having tried it, versus 56.7% of white students.

About 30% of students were current users of vaping products, with the rates again higher as students went through high school. Twenty percent of freshman reported vaping in the previous 30 days, while 40.1% of seniors had.

Since the survey started asking about vaping in 2015, the number of students who have tried it increased by about 7%, while the number of students who had vaped in the previous 30 days remained stable.

The state epidemiologist, Laura Williamson, said Wednesday people who have symptoms of vaping illness should save any leftover vaping product so it can be tested.

Symptoms of vaping illness include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. It's also common for people to experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The state is formally adding any vaping-associated illnesses to a national list of diseases. Local health departments are working with the state health department to investigate any possible illness. The state is also coordinating with federal and other state partners. Most cases are reported through local public health offices, the state health department said.

Earlier this year in the state Legislature, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have prevented the sale of flavored products and another proposal to strengthen laws about providing vaping products to children.

Other defeated bills related to vaping included one that would have revised the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act to prohibit e-cigarettes in public places and workplaces and another to put a tax on vaping products.

One bill that passed prohibits using vaping products in public schools and on school property.


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