A health advisory from the federal Centers for Disease Control has linked e-cigarettes to severe respiratory problems, though the agency said the exact cause is still unclear.
The CDC urged people to avoid using e-cigarette products bought from unlicensed sellers, citing health effects that researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center said reflect a poorly regulated industry.
Irfan Rahman, who directs research into e-cigarettes at URMC, said the severity of the cases outpaced what he expected.
“We were anticipating some responses, but not to this extent. This is very surprising to us, actually, what happened,” Rahman said.
Some cases of pneumonia treated locally have been so severe that patients needed to be placed on a ventilator or have a breathing tube inserted into their throat, said Rahman.
A team at URMC is looking into how e-cigarettes sold in the Rochester area differ from those sold in other markets. Researchers are seeking to discern how exactly e-cigarettes sold locally are affecting people in greater Rochester.
“We buy locally,” Rahman said. “I am well-known in the shops.”
Rahman said his team has over 800 local e-cigarettes to analyze in the lab.
The research is necessary, he said, because federal rules around e-cigarettes have not kept up with the changing industry.
“They are outdated,” Rahman said. “They do not account for the impurities or the contents or all the effects of e-cigarettes.”
Rahman said young users of popular products like Juul pods are especially vulnerable to any adverse health effects and also to developing addictions.
Still, experts said the dangers around conventional cigarettes, which e-cigarette manufacturers say their products are designed to replace, are well-known.
“If you’re worried about the dangers of e-cigarettes, don’t go back to regular cigarettes,” said Scott McIntosh, an associate professor at URMC and director of the Center for a Tobacco-Free Finger Lakes.
“If you do want to quit, free counseling is available,” said McIntosh.
The number for the New York State Smokers’ Quitline is 866-697-8487.