Updated: 6:16 p.m. | Posted: 10:35 a.m.
Two more Minnesotans have died from complications stemming from severe lung injuries associated with vaping, the Minnesota Health Department said Wednesday.
The latest deaths involved people older than 50 who died in September. The first patient “vaped a number of products including illegal THC. The second patient had severe underlying conditions and is believed to have vaped unknown products in addition to nicotine,” the agency said in a statement.
THC is the compound that gives marijuana its high. While investigators remain focused on illegal products as a primary concern, “health officials cannot guarantee the safety of any vaping products,” the state Health Department said Wednesday.
Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement that he was alarmed and had directed state officials to focus in particular on preventing vaping in schools and among young people. Walz said he will consider signing legislation to raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 statewide.
Describing it as an “outbreak,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said researchers were working to understand the nature of the lung injuries tied to vaping and what could be done to stop them.
Her agency urged people to avoid vaping anything containing illegal cannabis products, “as almost all of those Minnesotans who developed severe lung injuries had a history of frequent vaping of illegal cannabis.”
These are the second and third vaping-related deaths in Minnesota. The state Health Department in September confirmed the first death.
To date, Minnesota has 73 patients classified as confirmed or probable cases of severe lung injury associated with vaping, the department said, adding that researchers are reviewing an additional 32 people to see if they meet the case criteria.
Health officials say they're finding it hard to even identify the products people are using, let alone what might be causing the illnesses.
“Some of our cases have used 75 different products and to try to figure out a smaller number that caused the injury, it's a challenge to put all that data together,” Lynfield said.
Lynfield cautioned that users should avoid buying any vaping materials on the street, and should not be adding any substances to vaping cartridges or e-cigarettes themselves.
Even without acute lung injuries, e-cigarette use concerns Lynfield. She said concentrated nicotine encourages addiction, and can be particularly harmful to young people. And the risks of inhaling heated compounds are simply unknown, she said.
“We know that the vape contains heavy metals, that it contains carcinogens, that it contains volatile organic compounds, that it contains micro-particles that can lodge in the lung and cause inflammation,” Lynfield said.