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How harmful is vaping?

Wisconsin has reported 11 confirmed and 7 more suspected cases of severe lung disease linked to young people using e-cigarettes.

MINNEAPOLIS — Research in Minnesota is shedding light on concerns about e-cigarette aerosol, and the implications for young people. This, as two nearby states are issuing warnings about vaping and hospitalizations due to lung damage.

Doctors in Wisconsin and Illinois have been issuing warnings about vaping, after young people have been hospitalized with serious lung issues linked to e-cigarettes.

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Wisconsin's Department of Health Services reported 11 confirmed cases and 7 suspected cases of severe lung disease spread throughout six counties. The Illinois Department of Public Health has also confirmed three additional cases in the northeast part of the state. The patients had all reported worsening symptoms before being hospitalized, including coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Both states are now investigating whether any specific vaping products or other factors link the cases.

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"Unfortunately, I'm not surprised that we see some of these effects," said Irina Stepanov, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Stepanov has been studying both cigarette smoke and e-cigarette aerosol for several years at the U of M's Masonic Cancer Center, and says the severe complications are usually more associated with cigarettes.

"Actually switching from smoking to electronic cigarettes sometimes relieves respiratory symptoms," Stepanov said. "So it is a complicated issue, but it is an alarming one."

Alarming because even though e-cigarette juice primarily contains Proplylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin, which are safe to ingest, her team discovered vaporizing them with nicotine and flavoring leads to something more troubling.

"It creates different chemicals and some of them are toxic," Stepanov said. "We consistently see Formaldehyde present at substantial levels, sometimes you can have it comparable to cigarette smoke levels."

Stepanov says Formaldehyde alters DNA and can be linked to cancer, and because some e-cigs also have higher levels of nicotine, she's concerned lung problems could plague a new generation.

"Especially kids are more sensitive to toxic effects of certain chemicals," she said. "We don't have enough knowledge at this point, what it means long term."

KARE11 asked the Minnesota Department of Health, along with several area hospitals, whether similar cases linked to vaping have been diagnosed in the state. HCMC and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital say they have not seen any severe cases. Children's Minnesota has yet to respond. While the Department of Health has not issued any warnings or public notices, requests for more information were not immediately answered on Tuesday.

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