A mysterious lung illness associated with vaping is proving dangerous for users across the nation, including in North Carolina. We urge users of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices to take the safest route: quit.

At least 450 people in 33 states may have been affected by the illness, including five patients in North Carolina. Their symptoms can include severe shortness of breath, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Most of the patients who have been admitted to hospitals are young people, which is no surprise; young people represent the majority of e-cigarette users. But the ages of the North Carolina patients range from 16 to 72.

Three deaths associated with the illness have been reported, one each in Oregon, Indiana and Illinois. The outbreak, first reported on July 25, has grown remarkably fast.

“We encourage all North Carolinians to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes,” State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson told WTVD in Raleigh earlier in August. “Although the causes of the recently reported cases are still under investigation, this is a reminder of the potentially severe health consequences of vaping.”

No single vaping product has been connected to all of the cases, although many appear to involve products containing THC, a compound found in marijuana, and vitamin E acetate, a derivative of vitamin E.

It may sound healthy, but essentially vitamin E acetate is a grease that is converted into vapor when super-heated in a vaping device. After cooling in the lungs, it returns to its grease form.

It definitely doesn’t belong in lungs, which are meant to process gases.

There’s much we still don’t know. Officials caution that they are a long way from understanding what exactly is making so many people sick. To complicate matters, some patients reported buying products off the street.

One other thing is for certain: Vaping is even more dangerous than we knew before.

And we’d already known about some of its dangers, especially as we saw it luring underage users who hadn’t even smoked regular cigarettes before. In North Carolina, e-cig use among high school students rose a staggering 894% between 2011 and 2017, according to the North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey.

The battery-powered devices, which heat up liquid nicotine and convert it into a vapor, seem high-tech and edgy. Early on, e-cig makers offered flavored mixtures that seemed designed to appeal to youth — a practice that has been curtailed to some degree.

But the nicotine levels are still high enough to be both harmful and addictive.

There’s some validity to the notion that e-cigs can be used to help regular smokers reduce and eventually quit their smoking habit.

But at this point, the dangers far outweigh the benefits.

North Carolina filed a lawsuit against one popular e-cig maker, Juul Labs Inc., in May, contending that it targets underage youths with its products. Similar lawsuits against eight other e-cig companies were announced last month.

North Carolina for decades was known as a tobacco state and part of our economy still relies on the cash crop. But the more we learn about dangers of tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine — as well as the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke — the wiser the advice to never start smoking in the first place.

Many smokers and vapers find that once they start, they can’t stop. Some spend years trying to quit. Some fail.

The best policy for everyone is to avoid nicotine. Period.

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