One of Minnesota's recent vaping deaths was an Essentia Health patient in Duluth, according to the hospital.
Two more Minnesotans have died because of complications from severe lung injuries associated with vaping, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Wednesday. Essentia later confirmed that one of these deaths occurred in Duluth, as first reported by WDIO-TV and KBJR-TV.
In a Wednesday news release, the Health Department said the two latest deaths involved people over the age of 50. Both died in September after complicated hospitalizations. The patients had difficulty breathing, which prompted their hospitalizations, the release said.
The first patient vaped a number of products, including illegal THC, while the second patient had severe underlying conditions and is believed to have vaped unknown products in addition to nicotine.
It's not clear which patient was located in Duluth, as Essentia said it wouldn't share additional information "out of respect for the privacy of that patient," according to a hospital spokesperson.
The Northland has seen remnants of the vaping THC crisis already. The News Tribune reported in late September that several students were taken to emergency rooms after vaping THC.
A report from the Department of Health suggests one in three Duluth high school juniors had used an e-cigarette in the 30 days prior to a survey. However, an in-house survey at East revealed more than 50% vaped.
“We are saddened by the news of these deaths, and we are troubled that so many Minnesotans continue to suffer in this outbreak,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “We’re working hard with our partners across the country to learn as much as we can about these injuries and deaths, and to determine what can be done to prevent them.”
Gov. Tim Walz received an in-depth briefing Tuesday on the recent developments from Malcolm and public health experts.
“My heart is with the families, friends, and communities of these two Minnesotans," Walz said in statement. "Seventy-three Minnesotans, who have experienced severe lung injury in this outbreak associated with vaping illegal THC over the past several months, is too many."
Walz said his administration is launching an outreach campaign to educate the public on the risks of vaping and putting together legislative policies to tackle this crisis.
"We must ensure Minnesotans have the information, support, and resources to fight back against those profiting at the expense of our health and well-being," Walz said.
While investigators remain focused on these illegal products as a primary concern, health officials cannot guarantee the safety of any vaping products, the Health Department said.
Minnesota reported its first vaping-related death Sept. 6. So far, 73 patients in Minnesota are classified as confirmed or have probable cases of severe lung injury associated with vaping. Nationwide, nearly 1,300 lung injury cases have been reported from the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products with 26 deaths in 21 states.
Walz is directing his administration to come up with policy actions to combat vaping. Among the options, the governor said, are raising the statewide legal age for tobacco to 21, prohibiting the internet sale of tobacco and vaping products, prohibiting the sale of flavored nicotine and tobacco products and giving the Health Department the authority to declare a public health emergency in critical situations such as this.
Duluth has adopted some of these measures, including ordinances to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products and prohibit the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 21 were approved within the past two years.
Forum News Service contributed to this report.