First vaping-related death in state confirmed

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Just days before a statewide ban on flavored e-cigarettes was set to go into effect, a Montana teenager with a history of vaping died from a related illness, officials said.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) confirmed the fatality Oct. 15. The rise of vaping-related illnesses across the country in recent weeks was one reason for Gov. Steve Bullock’s emergency 120-day ban on flavored e-cigarette products.

The ban was set to go into effect Oct. 22 until Ravelli County District Judge Jennifer Lint blocked state officials from enforcing it with a temporary restraining order. The move came after vape shops and an industry group filed a lawsuit challenging the ban as overly restrictive. A spokeswoman for Bullock said the governor’s office is reviewing the judge’s order.

State Medical Officer, Dr. Greg Holzman, said much remains unknown about the cause of these illnesses and subsequent deaths. Across the nation, 33 people have died of diseases associated with vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Until more answers become available, Holzman said state officials “highly recommend that people refrain from any vaping products.”

Other states, including Massachusetts and Oregon, have banned the sale of vape products in the wake of the illnesses.

In a statement issued by the state department of health and human services, officials said the CDC and Food and Drug Administration have not identified the cause behind the lung injuries in these cases. The only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette or vaping products.

Toya Laveway, Lincoln County tobacco prevention specialist and emergency preparedness coordinator, said healthcare providers treating patients with respiratory illness with no apparent infectious cause — and who have a history of e-cigarette use — have been asked to notify their local health department.

“There have been no reported illnesses in Lincoln County at this time,” Laveway said.

In the coming weeks, Laveway will discuss the dangers of vaping with fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Libby Elementary School.

“With children reporting use as young as nine and 10 years old, it is imperative that we start conversations early and provide them with tools to make healthy decisions as they get older,” Laveway said.

Laveway also attempts to connect with teenagers by working with Libby Middle School’s eighth grade media class, where students make public service announcements that occasionally are aired to the community.

“I also go into the Libby and Troy high school health classes and present to them on tobacco and vaping, providing them with a backing to make healthy choices,” she said.

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