Piper Johnson was in the ICU at a hospital instead of heading off for her first year of college after having respiratory problems

By Julie Mazziotta
September 10, 2019 11:40 AM

A Colorado teen “feels lucky to be alive” after nearly dying of a severe lung illness linked to vaping.

Piper Johnson is one of the over 450 people in the U.S. who have reported developing serious respiratory problems after using e-cigarettes. Her parents, Ruby and Tim Johnson, said that they were preparing to take Piper to college for her freshman year when she started running a fever and had a rapid heart rate.

“Every doctor that she saw asked her if she was a smoker, and she said no, and then they said, what about e-cigarettes, and she said yes,” Ruby told CBS This Morning.

RELATED: How Dangerous Is Vaping? E-Cigarette Users ‘Should Worry’ About Rise in Lung Illnesses, Says Expert

Piper, who had been vaping for over two years, was diagnosed with Colorado’s first case of severe lung illness linked to vaping. She recovered in the hospital, and said that she will never vape again.

“It’s not worth it,” Piper said. “And it’s not worth the risk, and it’s not worth seeing your parents cry as you’re in a hospital bed.”

Piper Johnson
CBS News

Ruby said that she is frustrated with the e-cigarette industry, and Juul, the leading e-cigarette brand, in particular for marketing their products to teens.

“We’re parents who are mad that these things are out there, and we’re mad that they’re easily accessible,” she said. “Targeting a younger audience happened, and then when Juul was called on it, they went, oh, sorry, we didn’t mean to do that.”

RELATED: Utah Teen Will ‘Never Touch a Vape Again’ After Nearly Dying of Severe Lung Illness

Juul CEO Kevin Burns previously told CBS This Morning that the vaping deaths are “worrisome” but that the company has no plans to remove their product from the market. He also said that the Centers for Disease Control, who are investigating the over 450 lung illness cases and five deaths related to vaping, have not said if nicotine-based Juuls are the cause.

“Most of [the reports] that have any specifics have said they’re related to THC — we don’t have the details related to all those reports,” Burns said. “If there was any indication that there was an adverse health problem related to our product, I think we’d take very swift actions associated with it.”

RELATED VIDEO: How Vaping Sent This Teenager to Rehab: ‘I Did Not Understand the Severity of It’

On Friday, over a week after Burns’ interview, the CDC urged Americans to stop vaping during their investigation, and clarified that the reported lung illness cases have included both users of THC vape products and users of nicotine-based products.

And on Monday, the Food and Drug Administration, who is working with the CDC on their investigation, sent a warning letter to Juul, slamming the company for illegally claiming that their product is a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Dr. S. Christy Sadreameli, assistant professor of Pediatrics in Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at Johns Hopkins and a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, told PEOPLE that e-cigarettes of any type give off ultra-fine particles that are toxic and harmful to the lungs and should not be considered a safer alternative.

“E-cigarettes have been on the market for just ten years, which is not very long,” she said. “Things like Juuls have not undergone strict FDA testing, and we want them to do that. Anyone should be concerned. Even if you’re buying it from a well-known shop or brand.”

 

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