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Retailer Weighs In On Deaths, Cases Of Lung Illness Linked To Vaping

HOPKINS, Minn. (WCCO) – Health concerns related to e-cigarettes and vaping have retailers wanting to clear the air.

The CDC has reported at least four deaths potentially connected to vaping and around 450 cases of lung damage or illness nationwide. One of those deaths happened in Minnesota. Doctors said the person had a severe respiratory illness.

Vaping Studio in Hopkins has been in business for six years, but it's only been in the past few weeks that general manager Josh Hassing has fielded a certain set of questions.

"Probably every other customer we've seen in here since this whole thing started has been asking about the hospitalizations, the illnesses, what we think is causing it, and that's what led us to do all this research and kind of figure out what we think is at the bottom line of it," Hassing said.

READ MORE: MDH Investigates 27 Cases Of Severe Lung Injury Potentially Caused By Vaping

He feels part of what's to blame for the recent spike in hospitalizations is not from the products sold legally on his shelves.

"It's not a nicotine-based vape that's really causing a lot of these issues. I'm not saying it's not causing any, but a lot of it is these THC-filled cartridges that are being picked up on the black market," Hassing said.

His research has been partially substantiated. A Wisconsin state investigation found among all ages of those with lung disorders who reported vaping, 89% said they inhaled illicit THC products. THC is the main compound in marijuana.

In Minnesota, 11 of the 15 cases linked to vaping also reported using illegal THC, including one person who died. That patient had a history of lung disease.

The exact cause of the vaping health scare is unknown, but regardless if it is THC or nicotine, doctors feel vaping, especially among teens, is an epidemic.

"The lungs are struggling to deal with these chemicals that are being inhaled and the body's way of handling that is to send more and more of the immune system to the lungs to try to get rid of something that it's struggling with," said Dr. Ann Griffiths, pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Minnesota.

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge used the State Fair as an opportunity to educate families on vaping, such as how it's consumed and how strong e-cigarettes can be.

"Adolescents are the guinea pig generation. We don't quite know yet what exactly the outcome is gonna be and what the harmful effects are gonna be," said Amber Hewitt who was volunteering on behalf of the organization.

Hassing still feels vaping is a safer alternative to smoking and says transparency with customers is key. They mix their e-liquids right behind the counter in plain sight. Their CBD products are tested for pesticides and metals with paperwork to prove it.

"We will not do business with a company that does not have a certificate of analysis," he said.

He does advise anyone looking to vape to do research on what they're ingesting.

"Whether they come in here and start asking a million questions and I don't get home until 8 at night or if they just look for unbiased sources online, to really figure out what's going on instead of just jumping to conclusions," he said.

The CDC said it's helping states investigate whether the lung illnesses are linked to specific devices, ingredients or substances associated with vaping. Minnesota is collecting and sending illegal THC vape products for testing.

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