Sept. 10 Kansas health officials confirmed the first death in the state associated with an outbreak of serious lung disease related to vaping or using e-cigarettes. They have not released the where the victim lived.

But vaping is an issue in Kansas, and the devices are in use in McPherson.

Researchers at quotewizard.com show Kansas is tied with New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Idaho with the 24th-highest usage rates in the country, using data from the CDC. According to the CDC, 3.9 million middle school and high school aged teens currently vape.

In Kansas, 12.6 Percent of students responding to the Communities that Care survey, a survey of school students statewide, claim to have used an electronic cigarette within the past 30 days. That number more than doubled in the last four years — in 2016 the rate was 5.49 percent. The average age of first use reported is 14.23 percent.

County Communities that Care data for McPherson County is not available. However, 12.35 percent of students surveyed in the ninth judicial district — of which McPherson County is a part — reported using an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days, up from 7.09 percent in 2016.

The McPherson Police Department issued eight notice to appear citations to juveniles for possession of a vape device in 2018, and 13 so far this year.

“Many teenagers have a huge misunderstanding in their belief that vaping is safe.” said Joseph Ruppert, a school resource officer at McPherson High School. “It’s not! Of the students I have talked to, most say they think vaping is stupid or gross. The students who have been caught vaping; say they got the vape from a friend and believe there is no nicotine in the vape. Most of the students I have dealt with, have been under the age of 18 and there is not a particular group of teenagers vaping, students in all groups are vaping.”

McPherson Police Department D.A.R.E. Officer Dusty Voth told the Sentinel that the national Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey from the University of Michigan shows a dramatic increase in vaping in 2018 — nicotine vaping has increased by 3.4, 8.9, and 10.9 percentage points in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, respectively. In 10th and 12th grades increases were the largest ever recorded for any substance in the 44 years that MTF has tracked adolescent drug use.

He said students do not believe there is a serious health risk associated with vaping.

“This year D.A.R.E. America has designed a brand new curriculum to combat this; the 2019 school year will be the first year this curriculum is taught to the seventh grade students,” Voth said. “With this dramatic increase in use, please have a conversation with your children about the dangers of vaping… . An electronic cigarette can look like a wide variety of items, including a USB flash drive, a car key fob and an Apple Watch to name a few. Please beware of the dangers and please talk to your son or daughter. Help us create a safer and happier future for them.”

Elsewhere in the ninth judicial district Members of the student group Harvey County STAND claimed in July that e-cigarette usage has become an "epidemic" in Newton schools — citing a statistic that 29.27 percent of Newton High School seniors responding to the Communities That Care survey stated they had used an e-cigarette in the previous 30 days. That is an increase of 20 percent in one year.

That created a student-led effort to change the age for legal purchase, an ordinance was tabled in late July, with the Newton city commission requesting more research on the ordinance before considering passage. That ordinance, recrafted by the city legal department, is expected to be on the agenda again Sept. 24.

“While e-cigarettes are not considered tobacco, there could be a similar classification under the (Affordable Care Act) for e-cigarette use that could inflict the same sort of penalty of 50 percent on (insurance) enrollees that is inflicted on cigarette users,” said Adam Johnson, a researcher for quotewizard.com, an insurance company researching e-cigarette use. “When the youth start coming of age, those trends mean that e-cigarette use will become more prevalent in the country.”

The recent death was a Kansas resident over the age of 50. According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been five other confirmed deaths — in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oregon. As of September 6, 2019, over 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarette products have been reported to CDC from 33 states and 1 U.S. territory.

According to Kansas State Epidemiologist Dr. Farah Ahmed, the patient had a history of underlying health issues and was hospitalized with symptoms that progressed rapidly. The national investigation has not identified any specific vaping or e-cigarette products linked to all cases. Many patients report using vaping or e-cigarette products with liquids that contain cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol. Kansas does not have detailed information on what types of products were used by the deceased.

Kansas State Health Officer and Secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Dr. Lee Norman said health officials nationwide continue to work aggressively to gather information and determine what has caused these lung injuries.

“It is time to stop vaping” Norman said. “If you or a loved one is vaping, please stop. The recent deaths across our country, combined with hundreds of reported lung injury cases continue to intensify. I’m extremely worried for the health and safety of Kansans who are using vaping products and urge them to stop until we can determine the cause of vaping related lung injuries and death.”

Following a collaborative effort including the Harvey County Health Department, Newton Medical Center and Mirror, Inc., STAND students asked the city of Newton to make a move that has already been made by some private businesses. As of July 1, Walmart stores nationwide no longer sell nicotine products to anyone under the age of 21.

That was a move announced by the corporation in May. The store also placed the same restrictions on e-cigarettes and announced it will end “the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems,” according to John Scudder, U.S. chief compliance and ethics officer for Walmart Inc.

To date, Kansas has six reports associated with the lung disease outbreak. Three patients have been classified as confirmed or probable cases and three cases are still under investigation. State investigators determine if cases are confirmed or probable after examining the medical records of suspected cases and consulting with the clinical care team to exclude other possible cases. To protect patient confidentiality, no further information will be provided regarding each of these cases.

According to the CDC, investigations in disease and death are ongoing. CDC will provide updates when more information is available. No evidence of infectious diseases have been identified; therefore lung illnesses are likely associated with a chemical exposure. Initial published reports from the investigation point to clinical similarities among cases. Patients report e-cigarette use and similar symptoms and clinical findings.

The CDC issued a Health Network Alert Aug. 30 recommending people avoid vaping or using e-cigarettes. Also, people with a history of vaping who are experiencing lung injury symptoms should seek medical care. Nationally, symptoms among cases included shortness of breath, fever, cough, and vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms reported by some patients included headache, dizziness and chest pain.

For individuals wanting more information on how to quit tobacco products, please call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.