Almost exactly two months ago, a delegation of high school students went before the Newton City Commission to request a "T-21" ordinance that would push the legal age for purchase of vaping and tobacco products to the age of 21. On 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.

The student-led effort to change the age for legal purchase was tabled in late July, with the 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.

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

According to Kansas State epidemiologist 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.

Lee Norman, Kansas state health officer and secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 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 alarmed 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.”

Members of the student group STAND claimed in July that e-cigarette usage has become an "epidemic" in Newton schools — citing a statistic that 29.27% 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% in one year.

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 the disease and deaths are ongoing. CDC will provide updates when more information is available. No evidence of infectious diseases has 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 on 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.