A recent high school graduate is recovering in an area hospital after doctors say he became seriously ill as a result of smoking e-cigarettes and using THC products.
According to the family of 18-year-old Adam Hergenreder, he became ill after smoking a Juul pod a day for roughly a year and a half. Each pod comes with approximately one pack of cigarettes’ worth of nicotine, according to the Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking campaign aimed at preventing young people from beginning to smoke.
The teen also admitted to smoking a separate device that contained THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, according to physicians.
Last week, Hergenreder became violently ill, vomiting and suffering from chills. Doctors originally thought it was a case of the stomach flu, but after he didn’t get better he was taken to an area hospital, where he was diagnosed with a lung infection.
"If he had stayed home and said 'I'll just sleep through it,' it's possible he could have died," Dr. Steven Amesbury, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Advocate Condell Medical Center, said.
Dr. Amesbury says that the infection was caused by vaping, and that despite treatments that include breathing machines, steroids, antibiotics, and other medicines, there is a chance his lungs will never operate at 100 percent again.
"This lung injury is one we're seeing more of in vapers," Dr. Amesbury said. "There's been more reports and more hospitals are seeing it now. His chest X-ray showed changes throughout his lungs on both sides and there was no other clear explanation as to why he'd have that."
In a statement, Juul said that it takes product safety "very seriously" and that it makes sure to include pertinent warnings on all of its products.
"We have implemented industry-leading quality controls and appropriately labelled our products with ingredient disclosures and health warnings," a company spokesperson said in a statement. "Our device and manufacturing facilities are subject to numerous quality and certification standards and we conduct extensive preclinical and toxicological testing of the ingredients and analytes in Juul e-liquids and aerosols.
"As to this particular reported event, we do not have any details beyond what is being reported by the media, including what or whose products were actually consumed. We will continue to vigilantly monitor for any evidence of safety issues," the statement continued.
The story comes amid growing national concern about the safety of e-cigarettes and vaping, and several municipalities and governments have filed lawsuits against companies, saying that their advertising campaigns and literature have influenced teens to use their products.
One of those lawsuits was filed by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office. The suit targets Juul Labs, the company that manufactured the e-cigarettes that Adam used before becoming ill.
“Juul intentionally created addicted teen customers, to get them to continuously come back for life,” Lake County States Attorney Michael Nerheim said. “Companies like Juul Labs are preying on our teens and pre-teens by turning them into addicts.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 78 percent increase in high school students using e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018, and a nearly 50 percent increase among middle school students.
The Lake County lawsuit claims Juul used social media to encourage young smokers to post pictures of themselves using the devices, according to NBC News.
Hergenreder is grateful to be on the road to recovery, and he said that his diagnosis devastated him.
"When he told me how bad my lungs were, I was devastated because I didn't think that little pod could do so much damage to my body," he said. "It was terrible."
His mother also spoke out about his tribulations, saying that she hopes her son's example will dissuade others from using vaping products.
"He's living proof of what it does. I'm a believer in fate, and I believe this happened for a reason," she said. "I believe Adam's purpose is to educate people."