Austin launches webpage to track electronic cigarette lung injuries

Graysen Golter

The Austin Public Health department launched a webpage on the Austin government website last Wednesday to track the current trend of lung injuries related to electronic cigarettes.

According to the webpage, Austin Public Health has reported 13 cases of lung injuries in the Travis County area, doubling from the six reported last month. There are currently 165 reported cases and one death in Texas, while there are almost 2,000 reported cases and 37 deaths nationwide.

Anna Lassmann, a public information specialist at Austin Public Health, said she created the webpage and will update it every Friday to provide a hub for statistics, public recommendations and other education resources for residents. She said the data comes from collaboration with partners such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and local hospitals.

“We were receiving quite an influx of interest (and) inquiries about updates on it, so I thought it’d be a good idea to have a central resource hub to provide those updates,” Lassmann said.

Lassmann said Austin Public Health will launch a campaign this week that will push back on the online e-cigarette advertisements people see.

Lara Anton, press officer at the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the department is tracking vaping-related injuries, which are not technically reportable conditions, by having local medical professionals and health departments report patients with symptoms fitting the case definition, including coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. The case definition criteria includes e-cigarette use within the past 90 days and a lack of alternative diagnoses. She said 25% of the 165 Texas cases were minors, 75% were males and 9 out of 10 of the patients reported using THC and marijuana.

“Almost all (the people in these cases) were hospitalized, and many required intensive care,” Anton said. “These (symptoms) develop very rapidly.”

Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo said after having banned e-cigarettes where normal cigarettes were banned and having raised the tobacco purchasing age to 21, she would be open to expanding local education outreach efforts and the city budgets to further cut down on e-cigarette use. She said she would be investigating to make sure Austin Public Health is working closely with UT to bring the same vaping education to students.

“It’s important for (UT) and the other colleges in this area to also be aware … of the dangers,” Tovo said.