Health and Science

Consumers should avoid e-cigarettes as doctors struggle to identify cause of vaping illness, CDC official tells Congress

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Key Points
  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee's panel on consumer products is holding a hearing Tuesday on the recent outbreak in vaping illnesses.
  • Dr. Anne Schuchat, who's overseeing the investigation for the CDC, says the agency hasn't ruled out any one product in e-cigarettes as a cause.
  • Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi says the outbreak has been exacerbated by "illegal" safety claims by e-cigarette companies.
Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) (L) points to a poster showing similarities between Marlboro cigarette ads and JUUL Vaping paraphernalia, during a House Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee hearing that heard testimony on JUUL's Role in the youth nicotine epidemic, on July 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. consumers should avoid all vaping products as U.S. health officials struggle to identify the cause of a deadly vaping illness that's killed nine people and made hundreds more ill in recent months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday.

"At this point I think caution in all products is recommended. It may not even be the THC or the nicotine. It may be the additives or substances that may be common. It may be the material is not labeled appropriately. I do think consumers need to be quite cautious right now," Dr. Anne Schuchat, who's overseeing the CDC's investigation, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee's panel on consumer products.

The CDC has more than 100 people working on the investigation, which is complicated by the variety of products and chemicals used in vaping as well as the mix of nicotine and THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high, that's been found in patients who've fallen ill, Schuchat said.

"The identification of the cause or causes for the outbreak may take substantial time and continuing effort," she said.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said the outbreak has been exacerbated by "e-cigarette companies that make what appear to be unfounded and illegal claims that their products are safer and healthier than cigarettes."

He said, "people trust and rely on those claims, even when there is no evidence to back them up. The long-term health effects of continued vaping is unknown, but what we do know should give us all pause."

The House panel called an emergency hearing looking into the mysterious lung disease that has sickened at least 530 people and killed at least nine. Health officials have tied the illness to vaping, although they are still trying to identify the exact cause.

In addition to Schuchat, Dr. Ngozi O. Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; Dr. Albert Rizzo, the chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, and a parent are scheduled to testify.

While most patients reported using THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a high, many patients also used nicotine-based e-cigarettes. Some used nicotine alone.

The outbreak, coupled with surging rates of teenagers using e-cigarettes, has prompted a fierce and quick backlash on the vaping industry. The Trump administration is readying a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Cities and states are enacting similar measures.

The subcommittee launched a probe of Juul in June, holding two days of hearings in July. Krishnamoorthi earlier this month threatened to subpoena Juul, saying the company has not fully complied with the panel's request.