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"This Is A Serious Disease': Pitkin County Health Officials Warn Of Potential Dangers Of Vaping

PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Health officials in Pitkin County are raising awareness about the risks associated with with vaping, especially among teenagers. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment recently reported a ninth hospitalization linked to vaping in Colorado.

"This is a serious disease. We have seen over 30 deaths across the country that were completely preventable. And the people who have died were otherwise completely healthy, young people," remarks Karen Koennemann, Pitkin County Public Health's Director.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is investigating whether the death of an 18-year-old in Denver is linked to vaping. Nationwide, 1,600 cases of serious lung disease have been linked to vaping or e-cigarettes.

RELATED: Death Of 18-Year-Old Man In Denver Area May Be Linked To Vaping

Pitkin County Public Health said the illness is particularly concerning in the Roaring Fork Valley, where rates of illness among residents are three to four times the national average.

Colorado has the the highest rate of teens using e-cigarettes in the country, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Research has shown a high risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, and chronic bronchitis linked to vaping.

"If you have heard 'it's only Dank Vapes', or 'it's only counterfeit vapes', or 'Juul is fine' – none of this has basis in the actual facts," explains Risa Turetsky, Pitkin County Public Health's tobacco program coordinator. "Some of these ideas were considered in the beginning, but as we get more evidence, these theories have not been substantiated. We are waiting for the CDC investigation to turn up real answers."

To address this ongoing risk, Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle counties' health departments have coordinated to support policies that reduce the availability of these products for kids. In June, Aspen became the first locality in the state to put in place a ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products. Pitkin County and the Town of Snowmass Village will hearing policies to do the same in the coming weeks, and Pitkin County will also consider raising the age of sale to 21 for all tobacco. The schools and many youth programs are also doing their part to get the word out and to support young people to quit their addiction.

"Ultimately the message is this: Breathing any chemical, vape, or smoke into your lungs, especially if it is not approved by the FDA, is risky", Turetsky said.

Meanwhile, people who have used e-cigarettes or any vape device in the past 90 days should see their health care provider if they are feeling sick, especially if they are having trouble breathing.

"With winter on the horizon, it may become more difficult to differentiate flu-like symptoms from respiratory illness associated with vaping" warns Carlyn Porter, Epidemiologist with Pitkin County Public Health.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported a second death attributed to vaping in Colorado, which is not the case. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is investigating one death of an 18-year-old in Denver that may be linked to vaping.

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