The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) last week issued a press release, urging Montanans to consider not using e-cigarettes, for vaping, while an ongoing nationwide investigation is conducted into serious lung illnesses possibly linked to the use of these products. We just don’t know enough about the long-term effects of vaping to gamble with lung health right now, and we join DPHHS in urging adults and teenagers to stop using vaping products until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can figure out what is making people sick.

As of Sept. 6, 2019, the CDC has reported that 33 states have identified 450 potential cases of severe lung illnesses possibly linked to e-cigarette use. Five deaths have occurred. While Montana does not yet have a confirmed case, we know that there are men, women and children using vaping products in our state and in our county.

Teton County Health Department Director Melissa Moyer says we don’t have great data on e-cig use among county youth, but we do know a little from one of two surveys that happen in Teton County schools called the Prevention Needs Assessment that surveys eighth, 10th and 12th graders. The 2016 and 2018 PNAs show that 17% of eighth graders in Teton County have used an e-cigarette or vaped, and 37% of 10th graders have. Data for seniors was not available in 2018, due to small sample size, but in 2016 52% of 12th graders reported that they had used e-cigarettes or vaped. These numbers are similar to, or slightly less than what we see on a state level.

“I think we can also say with some confidence that the rates of both trying and regularly using e-cigarettes and vaping is higher among our county youth than is trying and regularly using regular cigarettes,” Moyer told the Acantha.

DPHHS says in Montana, e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among high school students. The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed nearly a third (30%) of Montana high school students currently use e-cigarettes and more than half (58%) have tried them. DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman says, “Parents should talk to their kids about the risks and dangers of vaping and everyone, especially young adults, should be aware that this illness is occurring.”

The lung illnesses reported are a serious health concern and right now users of vaping products are literally taking their lives in their hands by continuing to use products that may be tainted with chemicals that are harmful, or may be using chemicals that aren’t safe to vaporize and inhale. There are just too many unknowns.

The Health Department and local medical providers have resources available to help people stop using vaping products and resources to help parents talk with their teenagers.

Moyer says people can contact the department’s Tobacco Use Prevention Specialist, Erin Jones. She can help connect people to the Montana Quitline and discuss other needs and challenges around quitting tobacco.

If someone is interested in quitting tobacco or nicotine products, Moyer recommends that they have a conversation with their healthcare provider. Not only are most providers great champions of reducing tobacco use for all of the health benefits, they can also prescribe medications such as Chantix which help to curb nicotine cravings while someone is in the process of quitting. Most health insurance will pay for these types of prescriptions.

Anyone who uses e-cigarette products and is experiencing respiratory issues should promptly consult their provider. If it is a medical emergency call 9-1-1 or the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222).

“Vaping products emit an aerosol that exposes users to a number of different substances of which the long-term health effects are unknown,” Holzman said. “If you do not use tobacco products, do not start using vape products. If you are trying to quit commercial tobacco products, we recommend talking with your doctor who can provide FDA approved cessation medications.”

More information about the investigation is available on the DPHHS website at dphhs.mt.gov.