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A Juul vape device used in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018. 

For many of us, especially nonsmokers, the recent tragic illnesses and deaths associated with vaping probably seem somewhat distant. But the first reported death in North Carolina linked to vaping, which occurred at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro last week, brings the tragedy home in a way it hadn’t been before.

It’s time to take action against vaping, which has now become a death sport.

The test results from last week’s death are still somewhat preliminary, it should be noted. The patient was a Virginia resident, and North Carolina health officials are working with the Virginia Department of Health to determine if the death meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for the debilitating injury associated with the use of electronic-cigarettes that we’ve been seeing lately.

But given the information at hand, it’s reasonable to conclude that the death is part of that scourge.

The illness is more than just smoker’s hack. Symptoms are similar to pneumonia, and include shortness of breath, fever, cough and nausea or vomiting. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should take them seriously and seek medical help right away.

Scientists are still learning about the illness, and they’re not sure whether it’s caused by the e-cig devices themselves or with specific ingredients, some of which may be contaminated. In many cases, patients have acknowledged using products that contain THC, the main ingredient that produces a marijuana high, but vapers shouldn’t assume that vaping is safe under any circumstances. There’s too much we don’t yet know.

As of Tuesday, 805 cases of the lung illness — including 12 deaths — had been reported to the CDC from 46 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As of Thursday, 40 cases of the illness had been reported in North Carolina.

Earlier this month, Cone Health officials confirmed that its doctors had treated at least six patients with the disease, one of whom was placed on life support.

The illness is all the more dangerous because of vaping’s popularity with teenagers — usage increased by 135% between 2017 and 2019, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey; 27.5% of U.S. high school students are thought to use e-cigs regularly. That’s more than 5 million. It’s a fad that will draw more teenagers who want to be cool or rebellious.

If they haven’t already, parents must now talk with their children, making them aware of the possible consequences of vaping — even if they think their kids don’t vape. Unlike cigarettes, vaping may not leave a tell-tale odor. And they must stand ready to assist children who have become addicted but now want to quit. Nicotine is an insidious drug, notoriously difficult to kick. Our children need every bit of support we can muster for them.

For assistance quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, contact your doctor, call the North Carolina Quitline at 800-784-8669 or go online to www.quit linenc.com.

This situation is dangerous. We can’t mess around with it.

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