East Alabama man confirmed as state’s first vaping-related death

WAAY 31 spoke with officials on Wednesday to get insight on the state's vaping cases.

Posted: Oct 2, 2019 8:01 PM
Updated: Oct 2, 2019 8:03 PM

WAAY 31 took a closer look into Alabama's first confirmed vaping-related death. Right now, we know it's a man from East Alabama, but the state is looking at more than a dozen cases of illness.

The American Cancer Society told WAAY 31 a lot of cases they're seeing here are people vaping with additives like THC. However, they still want to hear from people who have bought any vape products and have gotten sick.

"We try to inform our clientele that if you want to vape, make sure that the liquids that you're getting is from a reputable source," Vic Vergara, the general manager for Eco Smoke, said.

Vergara's vape store has been open in Huntsville since 2011. Vergara said it took him decades to decide to stop smoking cigarettes, and that's when he turned to vaping. He said he started vaping about eight years ago after wanting to find an alternative to the cigarettes he'd been smoking for more than 20 years.

"I didn't like the smell of cigarettes. I didn't like having to smoke at home or how I'd smell if I had a cigarette at work," he said.

Since vaping, he says he feels a lot healthier.

"I breathe a little bit better. My sense of smell came back," he said.

Vergara says he's been researching the mysterious lung illness being documented across the country, so he can make sure his stores sell the best products.

On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed one death in the state, but more vaping-related illnesses could be on the way.

The state says it's investigating 19 residents in Alabama. Four cases have been identified, which means the patient had a respiratory illness and a doctor determined it was linked to vaping.

Three cases are identified as probable, which means a patient has a respiratory illness and vapes, but it hasn't been determined if the illness is linked to vaping. One case has been confirmed, which they've identified as the man who died. Nine cases are still under investigation.

A representative from the American Cancer Society said they have been working with the state as they investigate these cases. She says the evidence right now points to people getting sick from smoking products they bought from unauthorized retailers.

"Black market materials that youth are getting their hands on, and even adults, that have not been manufactured by legitimate companies, so we don't know what's in them," Ginny Campbell, with the American Cancer Society, said.

Public health officials still urge you not to vape, because the CDC still doesn't know what's in any of the products and what's making people sick.

Vergara still believes it was a healthy option for him despite what health officials are saying.

"I mean it's just been...to me, personally, a better alternative," he said.

He said he just wants people who vape, or who want to start vaping, to be careful.

"Take in all the information again with a discernible eye, kind of read through everything to try to find out the facts," he said.

He said he hasn't noticed any decline in his business since the CDC began investigating vaping, but he did say it's been making customers more aware of the products they are buying and the chemicals in them.

We reached out to the state health department to see if any cases are being investigated in North Alabama and how many cases are directly linked to vaping. We have not yet heard back.

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