Vape users: No need for alarm over death in US, expert says

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A public health professor says New Zealand vape users shouldn't panic following the first e-cigarette death in the United States.

The US state of Illinois' health agency said the unnamed patient was between 17 and 38 years old.

It comes amid an outbreak of illness across the US that officials have linked to use of e-cigarettes.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday 149 people nationwide have become ill from vaping.

Otago University Professor Janet Hoek said people need to be cautious and fully informed before getting overly anxious about the death.

Janet Hoek

Janet Hoek Photo: Supplied

Professor Hoek said the situation in the US was still unclear - but evidence was emerging people were creating their own vape products to smoke using vaping oils they had brewed themselves.

"We don't know what's going on in the US. There is some evidence that people have been vaping products that may have been brewed by themselves; ones that people are preparing essentially in their own kitchen.

"There is some suggestion there may be contaminants in the e-liquid," said Professor Hoek.

She said American authorities believed this could be linked to the growing cluster of people presenting with respiratory illnesses.

She said providing people were buying and using certified products, vaping would continue to be safer than traditional smoking.

"The most important thing is that people shouldn't be panicking.

"It would be a pity for people to stop vaping and go back to smoking because smoking is still likely to be much, much more harmful for them than continuing to vape," she said.

People who are vaping to quit smoking should buy from trusted retailers, but vape users who weren't using it as a quitting device should stop altogether, she said.

"We know that vaping is not risk free, but the best information we have at the moment is that vaping carries with it fewer risks than continuing to smoke."

Tobacco kills 5000 New Zealanders every year, she said. Although one death from vaping is disturbing, it was important to keep it in perspective.

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