KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas health officials are reporting the state's first vaping-related death and links to other lung illness cases.
The patient had underlying health issues, and once they were in the hospital, their symptoms quickly got worse. Experts don't know what specific vaping products the person used.
That last point is what vaping advocates are highlighting Tuesday. They said most of these vaping-related illnesses, 450 and counting, might be linked to illicit THC vape-pods.
Aaaron Todd is one of thousands who credit vaping with kicking his habit of cigarette smoking.
"According to the CDC, 480,000 people die every year from cigarettes. That's enough to turn me away from them," Todd, owner of Vapur Kansas City, said.
He opened one of the area's first vape shops. He said the industry has had its ups and downs, but nothing quite like this summer, which has brought with a barrage of headlines about potential illnesses and deaths potentially linked to the products.
"Everything out there so far has not proven anything as far as one way or the other, but everything they're seeing now is black market products that aren't registered, things with vitamin E in them," Todd said.
Researchers do believe Vitamin E or THC-infused in vaping products could be to blame for the recent surge in vaping-related illnesses, but the CDC and FDA reinforce that, right now, it's not certain that's the reason for all the new health issues.
"These people who do this just believe that it's safe, but it's not based on anything," said Dr. Matthias Salathe with the University of Kansas Health System's pulmonary and critical care unit.
Salathe and his colleagues said they've proven by testing human cadaver cells and sheep that vaping damages how the lungs work, and that kind of damage often leads to chronic bronchitis and even COPD over time.
"We've just replaced tobacco cigarettes with e-cigs and that's a real concern," Salathe said.
Todd said he's taken a lot of concerned calls lately and understands why the new health scares might cause people to quit vaping.
But rather than sound the alarms on cases that may be caused by illegal knock-off e-cigs and vaping products, he hopes research will continue to prove what's really happening and what's causing it.
"Testing needs to be done on everything. They can't stop doing testing on cigarettes. They can't stop on vaping. They can't stop on consuming THC products. There always need to be testing on stuff, especially what we`re putting into our bodies," Todd said.
Local hospitals tell FOX4 although there may still be some mystery behind exactly what is, or isn't, causing the spike in sicknesses, one thing is definitely changing.
Patients with respiratory symptoms are now being asked about their vaping use and that information must be reported to the CDC, so now actual reports on how much this is happening are coming to light.
The American Vaping Association issued the following statements in regard to news of the Kansas vaping-related death:
"The evidence from multiple state health departments and the FDA continue to point to illicit THC oils as being the cause of this death and other tragedies across the United States.
"There is a reason why the Food & Drug Administration has issued a specific warning against vaping THC, but not nicotine vaping products. Recent FDA laboratory testing has discovered nothing unusual in nicotine vaping products.
"We agree with the FDA -- if you do not want to die or end up in a hospital, stop vaping illegal THC oils immediately. If you are an adult smoker or ex-smoker who vapes store-bought nicotine products, do not listen to the activists and bureaucrats who would rather you inhale deadly smoke than vape.
"If we do not accurately inform at-risk populations about what type of product is actually sending people to hospitals, we stand no chance of stopping these illnesses and deaths from continuing to occur."