Illinois patient dies of respiratory illness after vaping; may be first in US

An Illinois resident hospitalized for breathing problems after using an electronic cigarette has died, state health officials said.

Officials “learned of the death of an individual who had recently vaped and was hospitalized with severe respiratory illness,” the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement Friday.

The person died sometime in August, but the health department declined to say where or when the death occurred.

“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “We requested a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help us investigate these cases and they arrived in Illinois on Tuesday.”

IDPH officials said 22 people between 17 and 38 years old experienced respiratory illness after vaping between April and August of this year. The department is investigating another 12 potential cases. The illnesses were reported in Chicago and Champaign, as well as in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, Peoria, St. Clair and Will counties.

All of the patients experienced symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue, while some also reported vomiting and diarrhea, according to the health department.

CDC investigators learned in many of the cases, patients also reported using products containing THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, the health department said. No single product was identified in all the cases and no product was directly linked to the illnesses.

News of the fatality came the same day 16 retailers accused of selling e-cigarette products to minors agreed to pay $550,000 to settle lawsuits filed by the city of Chicago.

Earlier this month, the Lake County state’s attorney’s office filed a lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, accusing the company of illegally marketing its products to minors.

A spokesperson for Juul Labs said in a statement the company has never marketed to youth, and the company exists to help adult smokers switch from traditional cigarettes.

Illinois health officials say the death could be the first tied to vaping in the United States.