Vaping has become a fad too big to ignore. By one estimate, some 35 million people vape. Roughly 14 million of those individuals live in the US, and over 3 million are middle or high school students. US teens are even vaping more than they’re having sex.
Since they came on the market, e-cigarettes have been positioned as an alternative to cigarettes. No doctor recommends vaping on its own, but some consider it part of the arsenal to help quit smoking. Some studies have shown that vaping e-cigarettes is actually better (paywall) at getting people to quit than nicotine patches or gum.
But in the last few months, reports of serious health consequences have brought vaping’s safety into question. In April of this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began looking at the links between vaping and seizures after at least 35 reports surfaced. That same month, doctors reported the first case of a sudden-onset, severe lung illness associated with vaping. By August, similar cases had popped up across the country. Later that month, the first person died of this mysterious condition in Illinois.
The cases now number more than 450, with at least five deaths reported as of last Friday (Sept. 6). The illnesses have led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a rare warning about vape products, telling the public to “[refrain] from using e-cigarette products” if they have concerns about specific health risks. A group of physicians recently published an opinion in the New England Journal of Medicine stating “efforts should be made to increase public awareness of the harmful effect of vaping, and physicians should discourage their patients from vaping.”
Here’s what we know—and what’s still unclear—about the health concerns tied to vaping so far: