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DIGGING DEEPER: Why reports of severe lung complications due to vaping are declining

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MADISON (WKOW) -- State health officials are seeing a dramatic decline in the number of people reporting lung complications due to vaping. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which tracks vaping-related injuries, said there have only been eight confirmed or probable cases reported as of May 31. Last year there were 103 cases of severe lung disease among people who admitted to vaping, most at the peak of the teen vaping epidemic.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services 2019, 2020.

A DHS spokesperson said local health departments are still investigating cases as they come, but said: "the illnesses associated with vaping have tapered off."

State health officials said they don't know the reasons for the decline but suggest it could be due to the changes in the formulation of THC vaping products and fewer people using them. 

In 2019, CDC identified Vitamin E Acetate as the potential culprit behind thousands of vaping illnesses that sent several Wisconsin teens to the hospital resulting in significant lung damage.

“People producing these THC products have learned from this and have really improved their manufacturing standards and are doing a better job of keeping out the Vitamin E Acetate out of the products,” said Dr. Megan Piper, a Researcher at the UW Tobacco Research Center. 

Last year a DHS investigation found 89 percent of the 27 cases that reported lung disease due to vaping was tied to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Another reason for the decline could be due to a flavor ban on Juul products and raising the tobacco age to 21 in Wisconsin, according to Dr. Piper. 

“If your source for vaping products was informal, meaning you got it from someone from school, you no longer have those connections and your supply may have gone away,” said Piper. 

The dramatic change in those reporting lung complications comes after vaping devices found their ways into the hands of teens even though it was illegal for them to use. 

Vaping was an alarming trend a high school principal said was “taking over his school” when testifying to lawmakers to raise the tobacco age to 21. 

The bill, which was signed into law, raised the legal age for sale, purchase, possession of cigarettes, nicotine, tobacco, and vaping products.

To listen to the full interview with Dr. Megan Piper, tune into Capital City Sunday at 9 a.m. on WKOW.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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