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Utah health officials are trying to determine why vaping-related lung illnesses are so high in Utah.
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Utah’s Vaping Crisis: Why Is Vaping Illness So High In Our State?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — With each passing day, the vaping health crisis grows across the country, including right here in Utah. But the question many are asking is why is Utah leading the country per capita in the number of vaping illnesses?

According to information released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Controlthere are now 1,888 reported cases of vaping illness across the country; 37 people have died, including one in Utah.

Utah had reported 109 of those cases. Our neighboring states are well below that number — Colorado had 11 cases and Arizona had 12, while Wyoming and Nevada have fewer than 10 cases.

So why is Utah’s number so high?

Its a question epidemiologist Keegan McCaffrey and his team of investigators are trying to answer at the Utah Department of Health.

This is a severe outbreak and we are using every tool at our disposal to try and get to the bottom of it, McCaffrey said.

One theory is the vaping products being used — McCaffrey said 90% of all the illnesses are THC related.

 One hypothesis that we have, is people selling these are diluting the THC content with Vitamin E acetate to be able to sell more of them,” he said. “We’ve tested 19 cartridges with THC here in Utah. We know 18 of them were cut with Vitamin E acetate.

At this point, McCaffrey said officials dont know if Vitamin E acetate is actually dangerous.

“This is really unusual to have this many people getting severe lung injury all at once. We know that something changed and we need to get to the bottom of it,” McCaffrey said.

Dr. Dixie Harris with Intermountain Health Care first sounded the alarm about the disease back in August. She has treated dozens of the vaping patients here in Utah.

This is a critical situation, she saidThis is unprecedented.

But Harris said she’s not sold on the idea that this is just about THC.

No, because I’ve had about 10% of our patients who have done absolutely no THC, she said.

According to the latest numbers from the Utah Department of Health, 47% of those getting sick in Utah have vaped both THC and nicotine.

Harris believes Utahs elevation may also be playing into the number of illnesses, but that wouldn’t explain why Utah’s neighboring states have numbers so much lower.

“It’s kind of like playing Russian roulette if you are vaping right now,” she said.

Kevin and Andria Henrie believe vaping shops are being wrongfully blamed for the illnesses. They own Rebel Goat Vapors in Salt Lake and are fighting the health department to keep selling their flavored juices.

“Not one vape shop owner wants to see it in the hands of our youth,” Andria Henrie said.

They believe the illnesses are the result of THC cartridges and not legal flavored juices.

“These are black market so these are not coming from good people,” Kevin Henrie said. “These are not regulated products. These cartridges that are coming in are usually clones or fakes of legitimate brands of THC cartridges that are sold in the legal states.”

“This is really unusual to have this many people getting severe lung injury all at once. We know that something changed and we need to get to the bottom of it,” McCaffrey said.

The health department reported more than 40% of vapers getting sick got their THC products from friends and more than 20% got them either from an online dealer or some other dealer.  

According to 2018 data from the Utah Department of Health, 5.6% of Utah adults said they vape. That would put Utah in the top one-third of states for vaping rates.

More troubling was the number of Utah teens who have tried vaping. According to the latest SHARP studywhich tracks risky behaviors amongst sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders, 9.7% of students said they have vaped in the last 30 days.

The health department is launching a new media blitz targeting the dangers of vaping. The message centers around “NO THC” cartridges.

Meanwhile, Utah lawmakers are gearing up with bills to fight vaping on Capitol Hill next legislative session — one even calling for an all-out ban of all vaping products. 

For the latest vaping numbers in Utah, visit here.

For the latest national numbers, visit here.

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