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First confirmed vaping lung illness case in Pierce County

TACOMA, Wash.—On Sept. 24, the Health Department confirmed a Pierce County man became ill with vaping-related severe lung illness. The man in his 40s reported he vaped THC and marijuana before he got ill. He spent time in the hospital because of his illness. He is now out of the hospital and recovering. This is the county’s first reported case of the illness.

The Pierce County case is among a growing number reported across Washington. Nationwide, severe lung illness associated with vaping has made more than 500 people ill and caused at least 7 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ill people reported they vaped THC, CBD, tobacco, and other substances. CDC and the Food and Drug Administration don’t know which products or ingredients are causing the illness.

“The outbreak of vaping-related pulmonary disease is a nationwide wake-up call that vapor products are unsafe,” said Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “Until we know more, if you are concerned about these specific health risks, the healthiest option is not to vape or smoke,” he said.

You should consider your safety if you choose to vape. Monitor your symptoms (cough, shortness of breath or chest pain) and get medical attention if you have concerns about your health. You should not use any products from unregulated sources or bought off the street.

Vaping is unsafe.
The FDA does not regulate vapor products, which can vary in their content and quality control. Along with THC, CBD, and tobacco, vapor products can contain substances the FDA approved for consumption—vitamin E, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin—which researchers have not studied for their health effects when vaporized and inhaled.

The harm from tobacco products is well documented. Worldwide, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease. The nicotine in tobacco is toxic to people. It is especially dangerous for children and young adults because it harms brain development, which can continue until age 25. Nicotine is highly addictive and can lead to lifetime use.

Vaping is an epidemic among youth.
In Pierce County, vaping among school-aged youth is increasing. Results from the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey show 23 percent of county 10th graders reported vaping in the past 30 days. In the 2016 survey, that figure was 14 percent. At the 8th grade level, vaping use has more than doubled. Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General declared vaping an epidemic among youth.

The health concerns from vaping are an area of focus for the Health Department. In January of 2016, local regulations the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health passed took effect to protect people in Pierce County from vaping in public places. These regulations mirrored those already in place for smoking in public. Later that year, we updated our local regulation to align with the state law that took effect in June.

Earlier this year, Health Department staff provided technical assistance and mobilized the community to support passage of the statewide Tobacco 21 law. It takes effect in January 2020 and raises the age limit to buy tobacco, nicotine, and vapor products to 21.

What can I do to help?
Parents and adults can:

Talk to children about the health risks of vaping and smoking.
Learn to identify vapor products, which can look like something harmless—a flash drive, lipstick, or lip gloss.
Encourage relatives and friends to find approved smoking cessation methods. The FDA has not approved vaping to stop smoking. The switch to vaping can continue the addiction to nicotine.

Find a visual dictionary of vaping devices and substances, information on approved methods to quit smoking, and other public health resources on vaping at For statewide and national information on the outbreak, monitor the State Department of Health’s and CDC’s websites, respectively.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment to protect public health. We are one of roughly 244 accredited health departments in the country and among six in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at

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