First case of vaping-related illness reported in Alaska

EVALI is a respiratory illness reportedly linked to the use of vaping products. (Courtesy of CDC)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) A press release issued by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has announced that Alaska has seen its first case of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

The patient was a regular user of vaporizer products, including nicotine and THC. The press release notes that the THC products the patient used originated from outside of Alaska. The patient, who is a teenager from Southeast Alaska, is in the hospital but their condition is improving.

Before this incident, Alaska had been the only state without a reported cause of EVALI. The press release claims that as of November 20, 2019, the CDC received reports of 2,290 cases of lung illness related to EVALI. 49 deaths have also been confirmed.

According to the CDC, they have identified vitamin E acetate as a “chemical of concern among people with [EVALI].” The CDC reports that Vitamin E acetate is an additive frequently used as a thickener in vaping products containing THC. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Brandon Emmett, founder of Good Titrations, a producer of cannabis concentrates used in vaping products, says that the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office (AMCO) has not approved vitamin E acetate for use in vaping products.

Emmett says that vitamin E acetate is an oil whose low price tag and yellow color makes it an attractive agent by black-market producers to cut their products with, thus increasing their profits.

However, Emmett also claims that the CDC has it wrong. He says that vitamin E acetate is actually used as a diluent, or diluting agent, in THC products. “At room temp, pure THC is very viscous,” said Emmett. “Some companies use vitamin E acetate in order to thin it out.”

Emmett credits marijuana’s place as a schedule I controlled substance as the reason the CDC does not have reliable information about cannabis and cannabis products.

According to Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, “people should not modify or add products that are not intended by the manufacturer.”

Castrodale claims that EVALI is, in fact, not an infectious disease, and the absence of a pulmonary infection is a sign that medical professionals can use to determine whether a lung illness is probably EVALI. A full list of signs and symptoms can be found here.

Vaping products are currently an item of discussion in Fairbanks as City Council has proposed an ordinance to add a definition for vaping products under the current tobacco tax. This will place an 8% tax on vaping products.

Health care providers should report cases of respiratory illness of unclear cause among persons with a history of e-cigarette or vaping product use within the past 90 days to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology at (907) 269-8000 or 800-478-0084 (after hours).

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