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State health officials to require clinicians to report suspected vaping-related illnesses

The announcement from the state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, comes as the number of such illnesses and deaths climbs nationwide. Richard Vogel/Associated Press/Associated Press

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is mandating that clinicians report any suspected cases of “ unexplained e-cigarette or vaping-associated” lung disease to state health officials.

The state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, said Wednesday the department is “actively investigating” approximately 10 vaping-associated lung illnesses, as the number of such illnesses and deaths climbs nationwide.

But the department said it has not yet confirmed any cases in Massachusetts.

The order to report suspected vaping-related illnesses covers a wide swath of the medical community, including pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and family doctors.

“It’s a public health call to action,” Bharel said at a press conference Wednesday.


Bharel said in a statement that the mandate “establishes the legal framework for health care providers to report cases and suspected cases so that we can get a better sense of the overall burden of disease in Massachusetts.”

It will also help state officials track cases in Massachusetts and provide data to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the federal agency works to understand the increasing numbers of illnesses.

Federal health officials at the CDC have reported 450 possible cases of severe lung disease associated with electronic-cigarette product use or vaping.

Despite some reports that a compound called vitamin E acetate in some vaporizers may be causing the illnesses, Bharel said Wednesday that health officials haven’t found a single link to all the hundreds of reported cases.

It’s also not clear what’s causing the problem: nicotine, a marijuana compound, or an unrelated additive, Bharel said.

The only consistent feature among all the cases is that the patient reports using an e-cigarette within the last 90 days.

“It’s really concerning,” Bharel said at the press conference. “Any time we have a disease where we don’t understand what’s causing it, it understandably causes a lot of anxiety.”


On Tuesday, officials in Kansas reported that a resident over the age of 50 died there of the lung illness, the nation’s sixth confirmed death linked to vaping. Five previous vaping-related deaths have been confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oregon.

Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.