Alaska Health Department releases new data on vaping

A local vape shop owner believes illegal THC cartridges are the ones hurting people because of harmful ingredients. (WJHG/WECP)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As the Food and Drug Administration reels over new vaping-related illnesses which they say are responsible for seven deaths and hundreds severely ill, Alaska can breathe a sigh of relief for now, as the Last Frontier has yet to document any of these cases.

Even though that’s good news for us, Dr. Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist for the Alaska Health Department, said that they want any health care providers and patients to report any possible vaping related illnesses so they can learn from them.

She said these illnesses have some expected syndromes, but there are some that might surprise you.

“There have been some gastrointestinal problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea,” she said, “but mostly it’s been the respiratory system. So trouble breathing, issues with pneumonia, and changes to the ability to breathe.”

While it’s good news that no one in Alaska has reported having these problems yet, Cheley Grigsby with Alaska’s Tobacco Control Program says vaping still a huge problem with our youth.

“In the state of Alaska, roughly 4% of adults report that they use e-cigarettes, but yet 16% of our high school students say they use them on a regular basis,” she said, “That’s bad enough, but then additional surveys show that over 40% of high school students have tried e-cigarettes before. If your kid goes to alternative school, it’s 65%.”

Grigsby says for parents nowadays, it’s important to know what these things look like. She notes the evolution of vaporizer devices changing the way they look. First they looked like big metallic batteries, then pens, and now products like Juul look almost exactly like a USB thumb-drive.

If you ask Jeremiah Iata, a manager at MJ’s Vapor in Anchorage, parents should talk to their kids about not doing something that’s illegal for them at their age.

“Kid’s always find somebody like, ‘hey can you go in the store and buy me this real quick?’” he said, “I feel like parents could crack down on it, but at the end of the day, kids are going to be kids.”

Iata said there are a lot of customers walking into the vape shop these days wondering and asking questions about all these new health concerns and deaths surrounded by vaping. He thinks it’s warranted, but thinks people should also do their own research.

“There needs to be more information out there about what goes into regulated e-juice from the FDA,” he said, “The deaths and the sicknesses out there right now aren’t related to regular nicotine-based juice. It’s stuff off the black market.”

Dr. Castrodale said she and the health department are aware of non-regulated vaping products being a part of the issue. However, she said they still need to collect as much data as they can to find out.

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