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Colorado parents say vaping nearly took their daughter's life

CDC urges halt to vaping
CDC urges halt to vaping as it probes possible links to deaths 02:54

Ruby and Tim Johnson say instead of dropping their daughter, Piper, off for her freshman year of college, they were watching her fight for her life in the ICU.

"She feels lucky to be alive," Ruby said.

Piper had had a fever and a rapid heart rate. "Every doctor that she saw asked her, are you a smoker? She said no. And then they said, what about e-cigarettes? And she said yes," Ruby said.

Piper was diagnosed with Colorado's first case of a vaping-related illness that has now sickened hundreds of people nationwide. The college freshman had been vaping for more than two years.

Piper Johnson CBS News

"We're parents who are mad that these things are out there, and we're mad that they're easily accessible," Ruby said.

Juul, the top-selling e-cigarette company in the U.S., is often blamed for the surge in youth vaping. Last month "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil asked Juul CEO Kevin Burns if he felt Juul was responsible.

"Well, some people could have used our product," Burns replied, "but there's never an intent on the company's part to target youth to grow our business. That's been the assertion."

Ruby Johnson said, "Targeting a younger audience happened. And then when Juul was called on it they went, 'Oh sorry, we didn't mean to do that.'"

Piper Johnson has recovered, and says she will never vape again. "It's not worth it. It is not worth the risk, and worth seeing your parents cry as you are in a hospital bed," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to consider stopping vaping, as it investigates a fifth death potentially linked to e-cigarettes.

The number of cases of severe lung illness possibly caused by vaping has surged to more than 450 in 33 states. Investigators say many of the cases involve vaping products that include the primary ingredient of marijuana, THC.

On "CBS This Morning" Monday, CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula was asked what people who vape should know about the symptoms.

"Some of the early signs would be shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain," Narula said. "Certainly the shortness of breath, if it starts to get worse over several hours or becomes more severe, you need to seek medical attention. Some people have reported the symptoms getting worse over days, some getting worse over weeks. We know that now possibly five deaths, all adults — although many of these cases, again, are young people.

"One of the screaming questions is, where was the FDA? Where were the regulators?" asked co-host Tony Dokoupil.

"It's a very complicated issue," said Narula. "Essentially the FDA got jurisdiction to regulate electronic nicotine delivery devices back in 2016. But they set a timeline until 2022 — that was going to be the date when they would review. That timeline has gotten pushed up now to May of 2020. Many people are saying this is too little, too late."

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