Join Riverfront Times Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Vaping-Related Death in St. Louis is First in Missouri, Health Department Says

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 5:25 PM

click to enlarge A man in his mid-40s started vaping in May and died this week, officials say. - VIA MIKE MOZART / FLICKR
A Missouri man in his mid-40s died this week at Mercy Hospital in what health department officials say is the first vaping-related death recorded in the state.

The man, whose named wasn't released, had suffered increasingly bad respiratory problems since he began vaping, and his weakened lungs caused his heart to fail, officials say.

"This is an unfortunate case of a young man with no prior lung illness who started vaping because of chronic pain issues," Dr. Michael Plisco of Mercy Hospital said in a news release. "He started out with shortness of breath, and it rapidly progressed and deteriorated, developing into what is called acute respiratory distress syndrome. Once the lungs are injured by vaping, we don't know how quickly it worsens and if it depends on other risk factors."

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services now requires physicians to report possible vaping-related lung illnesses. Since August, doctors have notified the state of 22 possible cases. Seven have been confirmed under Centers for Disease Control guidelines, but this was the first death.

Officials say the man began vaping just four months ago, in May. He soon began having problems and was hospitalized in August, and then transferred on September 4 to Mercy, where Dr. Plisco runs the hospital's extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program. They tried an ECMO to support his heart and rest his lungs, according to the news release.

"Unfortunately, because ECMO doesn't fix the problem and only buys time for healing, it didn't work in this case," Plisco said. "Due to the nature of this critical illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome ultimately led to his death."

Doctors have yet to pinpoint what about vaping causes the problem, although they suspect it is related to chemical exposure.

"We are sad to report that this illness associated with vaping has now resulted in a death in Missouri and extend our condolences to his family," Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state health department, said in a statement. "As previously stated, we encourage Missourians to follow CDC guidance to refrain from using e-cigarette products if you are concerned about these specific health risks, especially while the investigation is ongoing."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.

  • Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the latest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

February 24, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2021 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation