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expert reaction to death in Illinois reported as being linked to vaping

A patient in the USA has died from a respiratory disease that has reportedly been linked to vaping.


Prof Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“There have been a number of reports from the USA in recent weeks of serious respiratory illnesses in people using vaping products, and it is concerning to hear that one of these patients has died. However, we don’t know what has caused this death or the other cases. We have no evidence that they are linked to the types of e-cigarettes used by over 3 million people in the UK. Details from the USA are sketchy and clearly further investigation is needed, but these cases appear to be linked to contaminated or black market e-liquids. They may also be linked to vaping substances other than nicotine including cannabis oils that have been tampered with or modified.

“The US regulatory framework for e-cigarettes is very different from that in place in the UK and Europe, and stricter controls are in place here. No similar cases have been reported in the UK, where the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has a yellow card scheme that monitors this. These reports from the USA do not change available evidence that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking when the devices are used as intended (to deliver nicotine to smokers trying to quit). However, these reports from the USA may serve as a reminder that vapers, and smokers considering vaping to quit, need to buy products from reputable retailers that comply with content, packaging, labelling and marketing requirements.”


Prof Robert West, Department of Behavioural Science and Health at University College London, said:

“Whenever reports appear of serious health problems of a kind that are previously unheard of in users of a novel product, these must be investigated as a matter of urgency. However, it is not good practice to assume a causal link ahead of such an investigation. If a causal link looks plausible – for example if the probability looks significantly greater in users than non-users – then we should ask whether this is intrinsic to the product or a result of faulty production. It appears that official reports and newspaper coverage of the incidents linked to vaping have not followed this practice.”


Declared interests

Prof Linda Bauld: “Prof Bauld is CRUK/BUPA Chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention, Cancer Research UK; Deputy Director, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies; and Honorary Professor, University of Stirling.”

Prof Robert West undertakes research and consultancy for companies that develop and manufacture smoking cessation medicines but not e-cigarettes or tobacco products. His research is funded by Cancer Research UK.

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