Electronic cigarette disease in the United States: do vapers need to worry?


Cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea. These are the symptoms of mysterious pulmonary problems that appeared in the United States, which have already killed one in late August in Illinois.

Federal health authorities identified 193 cases across 22 states. The patients are teenagers and adults who are vaping enthusiasts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to doctors, the disease is like a reaction of the lungs to the inhalation of a caustic substance.

In response, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, asked its residents this week to stop vaping. The CDC wanted to be more cautious about the link between the disease and the electronic cigarette. "We do not know if they have the same cause, or if they correspond to different diseases that are presented in the same way," said their head of infectious diseases.

Do not "play the little chemist"

"It is not vaping that is questioned, but the way," said Jean-Pierre Couteron, clinical psychologist. For the spokesperson of Federation Addiction, a network of associations he chaired from 2011 to 2018, "favorable to vaping as a tool to get out of smoking", the problem is not the electric cigarette but the use that can to be made.

Vaping – the health risks of which are still difficult to assess but which the World Health Organization deems "undeniably harmful" – consists of inhaling vapors created by heating a liquid at high temperature. It often contains nicotine and may also have an aroma: tobacco, but also menthol, apple, red berries … These liquids are bought in specialty shops.

"But some vapers make themselves their liquids, in the fashion of do it yourself ", Regrets Jean-Pierre Couteron. For the psychologist, the consumers then take the risk of using liquids of poor quality or unfit for inhalation. "What can trigger health problems," he assures: "Do not play the little chemist. "

The cannabis pointed the finger

In the United States, health authorities are trying to find and the products used by patients, and whether they have been consumed as intended or mixed with other substances. Substances that the president of the American Vape Association has not hesitated to blame, claiming to be "confident" that cannabis was the cause of the disease.

Several states have actually announced that some of the affected patients had used their electronic cigarette to inhale liquids containing THC – tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active molecule of cannabis. This was the case, for example, for 89% of patients in Wisconsin. French vapoteurs could they be affected of the same evil? No patients have been reported yet. "We must put this in the context of the United States, reassures Jean-Pierre Couteron. They do not have the same security rules. "

According to the psychologist, French e-cigarette shops are subject to a stricter regime: "There is a control of devices like liquids, to avoid selling products of poor quality, standards are set by ANSES (Editor's note: National Agency for Food Safety, Environment and Labor). "

(Too) young consumers

But he recognizes that if "in theory, these substances are not accessible", in practice "everything circulates". Young people could get cannabis oil on the Internet and inhale it, even though the substance was not prepared for that purpose.

Because teens are vaping more and more. The popularity of the practice raises concerns, including seeing them turn to smoking. Facing the "impressive rise" in youth smoking, San Francisco (California) has banned the sale of electronic cigarettes. China has announced that it wants to tighten its regulation.

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