California has issued a stark warning to the public to stop all forms of vaping immediately amid concern that a growing number of lung-related deaths and illnesses are linked to e-cigarettes.
The state’s public health department made the plea in a health advisory which urged "everyone to refrain from vaping, no matter the substance or source" until investigations into the epidemic have concluded.
The department said to date it has received reports that 90 Californians with a history of vaping have been hospitalised with severe breathing problems and lung damage, two more have died.
Doctor Charity Dean, California’s public health officer, said: "We are seeing something that we have not seen before. There are numerous unknown factors at this time, and due to the uncertainty of the exact cause, it is our recommendation that consumers refrain from vaping until the investigation has concluded."
"Vaping is not just a concern for youth; the vaping cases under investigation affect youth and adults alike," she added.
The warning from officials in America’s most populous state follows increasing alarm across the country about the unintended consequences of using e-cigarettes.
Several US cities have already moved to ban the products in some form and on Tuesday Massachusetts became the first state to enforce an outright ban on the sale of all electronic cigarettes.
The temporary measure brought in by Governor Charlie Baker, who declared a public health emergency in the state, will remain in effect until January 25.
More than 500 cases of lung damage linked to vaping have been reported across the US, with seven deaths reported in the last few weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials are investigating hundreds of cases, many of which involved vaping THC from marijuana, but have not yet identified the substance responsible. In a sign of just how seriously officials are taking the situation, California governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last week authorising $20 million for a public awareness campaign to highlight the risks associated with vaping.
The number of teenagers vaping is also a concern, with government health officials warning it has reached epidemic levels. In a government survey, more than 1 in 4 high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the last month.
President Donald Trump’s administration has vowed to act by banning thousands of flavoured e-cigarettes because they appeal to underage users.
In a separate development, Juul, America’s largest e-cigarette manufacturer, announced a string of changes including the removal of its chief executive and an end to all of its advertising in the US.
The company is facing several investigations by Congress, government agencies and even a criminal inquiry by officials in northern California into whether it was marketing its product to teenagers.
Juul’s new head, KC Crosthwaite, said he recognised that there’s "unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry."