City of Berkeley warns against vaping after statewide lung injury cases reported

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The city of Berkeley released a recommendation Thursday advising individuals to refrain from vaping after over 100 statewide cases of hospitalization associated with vaping-related breathing problems or lung damage were reported.

At least 1,080 lung injury cases and 18 deaths have been reported nationally as of Oct. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.  In California, 104 individuals have been hospitalized for breathing problems and lung damage and two deaths have occurred since June, according to the city of Berkeley press release.

“Vaping is inhaling aerosol from an e-cigarette or other vaping device that heats a liquid that can contain nicotine, marijuana (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) or other substances” reads the press release.  “The shapes and sizes of these devices vary and include colorful vape pens.”

The recommendation urges consumers of vape products to be wary of breathing symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Nonspecific symptoms can include fatigue, fever and weight loss.

According to the CDC, most patients affected by the outbreak had previously consumed THC-containing products.  Approximately 70% of the patients were male.

At this point, the CDC has not identified a single chemical component responsible for the cases of lung injury. While investigation is still underway, the CDC recommends that vape users refrain from using these products, “particularly those containing THC.”

The CDC website also discourages consumers from using products from “informal sources” or “off the street.”

According to Hi-Fidelity Cannabis Dispensary on Telegraph Avenue, the entirety of its products are thoroughly tested and logged by the Bureau of Cannabis Control in California.  The products are tested for solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, microbial impurities and mycotoxins among other substances, according to a Hi-Fidelity statement.

Diana Barker, an employee at Vapor Den, a vape shop on Telegraph Avenue, said the city’s warning against all vape products is equivalent to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

“As far as I know, there’s a lot of bootleg, you know people making vape in their basements, putting all kinds of stuff in it,” Barker said. “That’s where these sudden illnesses are coming from.”

Lisa Hernandez, the city’s public health officer, supports the CDC’s position on ceasing consumption of vape products until more information is gathered.

Hernandez added that she hopes the city can treat cases of lung illnesses as it would treat any food-borne illness, such as those caused by E. coli infection.

“We don’t know the long term effects of vaping at all,” Hernandez said.  “Acutely, I’m hoping that people will refrain or think deeply about whether or not they want to vape and definitely not starting to vape if they haven’t vaped already.”

Sasha Langholz is a research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏.