FARMINGTON – The New Mexico Department of Health has ordered the labeling of marijuana products and issued a public health advisory about the dangers of vaping as severe lung injuries associated with its use continue to rise across the country.
Roughly 1,080 lung injury cases associated with vaping or e-cigarette usage and 18 deaths have been reported as of Oct. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Mexico has tracked 15 cases of individuals – six who were younger than 21 years old – who developed a severe lung injury from vaping requiring hospitalization as of Oct. 4, according to the state’s Department of Health. Seven counties, including San Juan County, have reported cases. The department urged residents to stop vaping until health investigations on the lung injuries have been completed.
“(Vaping) is having truly devastating long-term effects with very serious lung injuries,” said Dr. Sugar Singleton with San Juan Health Partners Urgent Care. “It’s not an injury that is short-term and then you get better; it’s lifelong consequences.”
The labeling order requires all medical marijuana producers and manufacturers to label their vaping products containing THC with this statement: “WARNING: Vaping cannabis-derived products containing THC has been associated with cases of severe lung injury, leading to difficulty breathing, hospitalization and even death.”
New Mexico Secretary of Health Kathy Kunkel emphasized the department was not issuing a ban but did want the community to know there were health risks associating with vaping, both THC and nicotine. “Vaping lung-related injuries is uncharted territory in public health, and it is important that residents know the health risks if they make the choice to continue using any vaping products,” Kunkel said in a public statement.
The long-term dangers of vaping, especially THC products, remain unknown, Singleton said. “It’s on the forefront of all public health centers and is an ongoing concern since the e-cigarette commerce is targeting the youth population.” Many of the vaping companies sell flavored cartridges, which many experts consider the root cause of the recent surge in the youth nicotine rate.
As the flu season approaches, many doctors worry it could complicate the diagnosis of the vaping-related lung injuries. The common symptoms associated with the injuries – cough, chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue – are also seen with the cold and the flu. Singleton urged people to see a physician if they experience any of the symptoms and to disclose to their doctor if they are using e-cigarettes, or vaping THC products so that they can be properly diagnosed.
Identifying the connection to vaping or THC usage can be crucial for health providers to properly diagnose lung injuries and treat patients, said Dr. Michael Landon, the state epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health. Landon said missing this connection could lead to underreported numbers.
“People get admitted with pneumonia and pulmonary disorders, but what’s different is this illness is associated with vaping,” he said.
E-cigarettes were originally marketed as a device to help those struggling with a nicotine addiction. While Landon acknowledges it could be a cessation tool “in rare circumstances,” he said the weight of the evidence is shifting and the costs of vaping outweigh any benefits of its use.
“The health community has had a mixed message (on vaping), and now we need to be clear because of the risks of lung injury and addiction,” Landon said.