WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- On Friday, the CDC announced its latest findings from research into lung injuries associated with vaping or e-cigarette usage, reporting that THC-containing products play a role in the outbreak.
The CDC said it needs more information to attribute lung injuries to a specific product, substance or brand. The institution said this investigation is "particularly challenging" because it involves looking at hundreds of cases across the country.
For vapors, the latest finding shows it could be safe to use devices that only contain nicotine.
Tammy Harman was a frequent cigarette smoker for 20 years and transitioned to vaping after getting diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Six years later, she said she feels healthier than ever.
"It was a real blessing. It saved my life," she said. "I'm so glad that I got off regular cigarettes because it made a wonderful difference."
With a national spotlight on vaping-related illnesses and deaths, health officials are warning users to stop usage immediately. However, Harman said the headlines have failed to highlight the good it has done for ex-chronic smokers like herself.
"My health actually seemed to improve over the years, instead of getting worse," she said.
According to the CDC, an estimated 14 percent of U.S. adults were frequent cigarette smokers as of 2017, which is a 67 percent decline since 1965. While many smokers like Harman might have transitioned to vaping or e-cigarettes as an alternative, medical experts still warn against it.
"Ideally, no one would ever be using any of these products at all," said Dr. Caitlin Padati, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. "Anytime that we can sort of introduce any kind of other substance into the lungs, there is going to be consequences."
On Sept. 11, the Trump administration announced it would ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, and some states are taking matters into their own hands. Michigan, New York, Washington, California, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have limited access to e-cigarette products. Central Iowa Vapor owner Corey Halfhill said he worries that getting rid of vaping products will lead smokers back to cigarettes.
"Our fear is that's going to put 14 million people back into a problem where they feel like they need to go back to the only alternative for them, which is smoking," Halfhill said.
Business owners like him said they feel under attack with recent headlines. He said he is ultimately in the industry to help people get off tobacco products altogether.
"Our whole mantra is transitioning people off of cigarettes and giving them the option to successfully get off nicotine," he said.
While the CDC and medical experts continue to investigate, advocates like Halfhill and Harman will continue reminding others why they think e-cigarettes and vaping aren't as harmful as the headlines make it seem.
"It's been beneficial to me as a patient with sickness that I had an alternative to go to," Harman said. "I was so sick and then I got better, so it's like an answered prayer."
In the meantime, the CDC continues to urge people to refrain from using e-cigarettes and vapes altogether, especially devices that contain THC.