One Minnesotan has died because of lung illness believed to be related to vaping.
Forty-three others have been hospitalized for the same reason.
Twenty-four more lung illness cases are still being investigated for their cause.
The patient number increases daily; the Minnesota Department of Health provides a constant update to the situation. All patients who were interviewed by the Minnesota Department of Health reported vaping illicit THC products, and many more reported vaping other products, including some that contain nicotine, according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Now, Essentia Health is releasing its "Don't Blow It" anti-vaping to campaign to educate students about the dangers of vaping. They hope the messages will lead some young people to stop the habit and prevent others from starting.
The timing of the campaign with the hospitalizations is a coincidence, as the campaign has been in the works for two years.
"All of the information that has recently come out kind of adds fuel to the fire," said Karen Pifher, the West Market Program Manager of Community Health at Essentia Health.
Multiple schools in different states reached out to Essentia to start an anti-vaping campaign and partner with them. Tara Ekren, the Media Relations Specialist for Essentia Health, said that staff at their Detroit Lakes and Fargo hospitals have seen an increase in referrals for quitting vape products over the past few years, but haven't had a noticeable increase in calls about vaping related illnesses or deaths.
"There's been like a 30% (vaping) increase in many, many school districts," Pifher said.
Pifher blames the increase on the tobacco industry.
"They make (tobacco) in grape, cotton candy and cookie flavors. It comes in a cool package. They blow this cool cloud and it smells like candy," she said. "If you make it to 21, there's only a 5% chance you're going to start using tobacco. So (the tobacco industry) needs to target kids. So how do you target kids? You make tobacco candy flavored."
She isn't the only one who believes this. According to the FDA, they are working to outline a plan to remove flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods from the tobacco market, following the Trump administration's decision to ban the sale of them. Michigan banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes at the beginning of September and Walmart just announced last week that they are removing e-cigarettes from their stores, according to two different New York Times articles.
Pifher also believes students vape because of misconceived facts and ideas.
"A lot of students are like 'oh, it won't hurt you, it's just water.' And that's not correct," Pifher said.
According to the FDA, the vapor comes from an e-liquid that can does not contain tobacco, but usually has nicotine, flavoring, other chemicals and metals, sometimes THC, and more.
"The lungs cannot deal with the chemicals, like the oils -- they're not meant to be consumed. It's not only dangerous because it's not regulated ... but also they can use drugs in there," Pifher said.
Although vape devices have been regulated by the FDA since 2016, these ingredients are not regulated nearly to the level Pifher thinks they should be.
"Now, they require the need to investigate what the ingredients are, the problem is that ... if you're not new to the market there's places that haven't been checked," Pifher said.
"Don't Blow It" hasn't rolled out just yet, but Pifher has been involved with Frazee and other schools in the meantime. She has a meeting scheduled with the Becker County Children's Initiative, where all schools in the county come together, and she will be introducing the campaign there.
The campaign consists of a 10-minute video and a toolkit to follow it. The toolkit has a facilitator evaluation, a student pre-evaluation before showing the video and a student post-evaluation after showing the video, a vaping quiz and a vaping guide for a large group discussion.
Although the program is rolling out in schools, Pifher says it is open to anyone who has a group that they think should know more about the dangers of vaping, the kinds of vapes, what to do when a student is vaping and how a student can get help.
"Anybody from a church, a youth group, .... any group of people. If you have kids coming to your home, we can do this anywhere," she said. "It's just really important to know (vaping) is dangerous and even though we don't have 30 years of studies ... there's people dying. Kids are dying. So people need to be aware that it is very dangerous."