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CDC Tells Congress There Are Hundreds More Vaping-Related Injury Cases


At least 530 people across the U.S. have become sick through vaping. Health officials say there could be hundreds more. A mother whose daughter nearly died addressed Congress today to kick off two days of public hearings. These hearings come as Massachusetts has banned the sale of all vaping products for the next four months and the federal government considers a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. NPR's Allison Aubrey has more.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: A House oversight subcommittee heard testimony from Ruby Johnson, a mother from the Chicago area who described just how sick her college-aged daughter got from vaping and ended up in the hospital.


RUBY JOHNSON: I'll never forget watching her cry that she literally couldn't breathe without excruciating pain as she was pumped full of IV fluids, antibiotics, steroids, pain meds, anti-nausea meds and a diuretic to clear fluid from her badly inflamed lungs.

AUBREY: She's doing better now, but Johnson told lawmakers she'd like to see a ban on flavored e-cigarettes.


JOHNSON: These products flooded the market without anyone knowing how they would cause damage, and now we're trying to clean up a mess that involves a cocktail of mystery toxins and proprietary flavors. If this was romaine lettuce, the shelves would be empty.

AUBREY: It is still unknown what's causing the outbreak of serious illnesses. The CDC's Anne Schuchat says, so far, no one substance or product is linked to all the illnesses. She says the CDC is getting new reports of additional cases every day.


ANNE SCHUCHAT: We know that people are dying right now in this outbreak of lung injury, and we really want people to protect themselves.

AUBREY: The CDC continues to warn people against use of e-cigarettes. So far, many of those who've gotten sick have acknowledged using THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis. But some say they've only used nicotine products, which led lawmaker Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat of Illinois, to ask this.


RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: There may be people out there who would like for this to be a THC-only problem so that they can go back to vaping nicotine e-cigarettes. If almost 20% of victims are using only nicotine e-cigarettes, do we still need to be concerned about all e-cigarettes at this point?

AUBREY: To which Schuchat responded...


SCHUCHAT: At this point, I think caution regarding all products is recommended.

AUBREY: She says this outbreak reinforces the need to address the broader vaping epidemic. At a time when more high schoolers have begun vaping, Schuchat says the latest generation of e-cigarettes has a higher available nicotine level.


SCHUCHAT: The newest generation of e-cigarettes seems to have a number of factors that make it even more addictive or even more popular among youth.

AUBREY: She says nicotine can have dire impacts on the adolescent brain.


SCHUCHAT: We're extremely concerned about flavors and the role that they play in hooking young people to a life of nicotine and that we really want to avoid another generation being addicted to nicotine.

AUBREY: As for adults who are trying to stop smoking cigarettes by switching to e-cigarettes, at least one lawmaker, Carol Miller, a Republican of West Virginia, says it's important to consider this harm-reduction approach.


CAROL MILLER: We can both prevent children from using e-cigarettes while also ensuring that they remain available for those adults who are choosing to quit smoking.

AUBREY: The committee heard from a former smoker who says she successfully quit cigarettes thanks to vaping. But the chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, Albert Rizzo, who also testified, says switching is not quitting if you're still using nicotine.


ALBERT RIZZO: The FDA has not found any e-cigarette to be safe and effective in helping smokers quit.

AUBREY: The hearings will continue tomorrow, when lawmakers are scheduled to hear from the FDA, the agency that regulates e-cigarettes.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.