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Vapers urged to stop as deadly lung disease reaches Western New York

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The serious lung disease blamed on vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes has hit Western New York and research scientists are racing to figure out what's going on.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are 450 cases around the country and at least five deaths. Researchers say it is definitely associated with vaping and probably with THC used in the e-cigarettes. There is some association with Vitamin E.

It's a severe pheumonia-like illness and the CDC and the state Health Department are telling people to stop vaping. The Health Department's renowned Wadsworth Labs is trying to figure out what is in the vaping liquid that might cause the lung issues.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says the issue is now affecting the region.

"[There are] over 450 possible cases of lung disease associated with the use of electronic cigarette products and we know in New York State as of Friday, there were a total of 34 cases, and 13 of those were in Western New York," Burstein said.

Burstein says the hospitals are notifying the state Health Department if a case comes in. She says young vapers, who often think nothing bad will happen to them, should be paying close attention to the situation.

"Young people are finding these electronic nicotine devices very attractive. They're hearing from the companies that manufacture these devices that they're healthy, that they're safe, that they won't cause type of chronic lung disease like traditional cigarettes," Burstein said.

The use of vape products has surged in recent years, especially among young people. One maker of vaping devices is pushing back, ending the manufacture of flavors like bubble gum. At the same time, more vapers are mixing their own liquids for the electronic devices, using nicotine or pot.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.