Healthcare

Reports of Vaping-Related Hospitalizations Are Concentrated in North Texas, Leaving Authorities Puzzled

Two North Texans have died.
Two North Texans have died. Shutterstock
Dallas County confirmed on Thursday that the teenager who died late last year as a result of vaping was 15. That makes the teenager the epidemic's youngest victim, underscoring North Texas' outsize role in the nationwide outbreak of vaping-related illnesses.

The state has reported the most hospitalizations in the nation, and of those, a majority have happened in North Texas. So have two of the state's three reported deaths. So what's special about North Texas?

"The short answer is: We don't know for sure," said Chris Van Deusen of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked the mysterious illnesses to vitamin E acetate, an additive found in some black-market THC products. Perhaps DFW got a bad batch.

"The Dallas area and other parts of North Texas might have gotten products that contain that for some reason," theorized Van Deusen.

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Two North Texans have died.
Shutterstock
Or, maybe, doctors and hospitals in North Texas are doing a better job of recognizing and reporting signs of the disease.

"We have a really good reporting network and relationship with our hospitals," said Dr. Philip Huang, head of Dallas County Health and Human Services. That's leading to "timely and pretty complete reporting," he said.

Neither Huang nor Van Deusen think the data necessarily points to an underlying trend in DFW vaping habits.

"I don't think we have a reason to suspect there's more people vaping THC in Dallas," Van Deusen said.

Victims across the nation tend to be younger. In 2018, 13% of Texas students reported using e-cigarettes.

In September, Texas raised its smoking age to 21, and late last year the Trump administration banned the sale of flavored vape cartridges, which are particularly popular among kids.

This has had an immediate impact on local businesses. The Texas Vapor Coalition reported there are more than 600 businesses selling vaping products across the state. Its executive director, Jay Maguire, said Texas distributors of vaping liquids have reported more than a 50% drop in sales as a result of the media coverage following the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses.

Eric Scott, a staff member at Wizard's Vapor Bar & Smoke Shop in Deep Ellum, isn't sure why North Texas has had so many reports of vaping-related illnesses. But he has noticed a drop in business following the increase in the smoking age.

"From the years of 18 to 21, all those customers were just deleted immediately," he said.
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Lucas Manfield is an editorial fellow at the Observer. He's a former software developer and a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
Contact: Lucas Manfield