The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a recent alert about several cases of “severe respiratory illness among individuals who have a recent history of vaping.”

The patients in question were young – between 15 and 27 – and most required hospitalization, with symptoms including “progressive respiratory compromise,” fever, chest pain, and nausea. All reported vaping in the weeks to months prior to their illness.

These cases of severe respiratory illness are troubling, but not surprising. (Who would have thought it might not be safe to regularly vaporize and inhale a mix of chemicals that might include propylene glycol, nicotine, glycerin, and any number of other additives, for no good reason?)

Of course, some will say, “Vaping is still less harmful than smoking!”

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Allow me to suggest, then, that “less harmful than smoking” is a poor standard for healthy behaviors.

Smoking is bad for you, and if you smoke, you should quit. Anecdotally, some smokers seem to have found it easier to quit by switching to e-cigarettes, then quitting altogether. But anyone who thinks vaping is harmless is fooling themselves.

I lost both my parents to lung cancer. This is personal for me. Anyone who is addicted to nicotine – in any form – should make quitting their top priority. You will be healthier, wealthier, and almost certainly happier as a result.

Paul E. Pedersen, MD

President, Illinois State Medical Society

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