Local health officials are telling Eau Claire County residents to stop using e-cigarette products amid a nationwide outbreak of lung disease cases tied to vaping.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department sent out an alert on Tuesday urging people to not use the devices that are being blamed for more than 450 cases of lung damage under investigation in the U.S. and six deaths.

The department had concerns over rising youth use of e-cigarettes, the amount of addictive nicotine found in the products and a lack of research into health effects of vaping, but the rising number of people hospitalized made it an issue local officials felt compelled to issue a public health alert.

“As a health officer I just can’t ignore that,” said Lieske Giese, Health Department director.

Public health officials in Madison sent out a similar broad alert last week, but a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was targeted toward certain substances found in the majority of vaping cases that led to hospitalization.

The agency advised people to not buy vaping chemicals sold on the street and not add THC oil — the chemical found in marijuana that gets users high. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Friday that there is no one specific substance or product shared among all lung disease cases they’re investigating, but most patients reported using vaping products containing THC.

An advocacy group sponsored by vaping product companies said that’s an important distinction, claiming that consumers should not be scared away from nicotine-based products sold in stores.

“If recent serious lung illnesses linked to illicit THC cartridges have taught us anything, it should be that what substance someone is vaping matters,” the American Vaping Association said Sunday in a news release.

The association still stands by its assertion that electronic cigarettes help people quit smoking traditional tobacco products, which contain carcinogens.

But Giese said her department’s public health alert is advising people stop using vaping products altogether.

“We are targeting all e-cigarettes at this point,” she said.

Giese acknowledges that vaping advocates claim that e-cigarettes are a way to quit smoking, but she said health impacts of inhaling the chemicals vaporized using the devices have not thoroughly been studied.

“The bottom line is there is a lot we don’t know about vaping products,” she said.

For those trying to quit smoking, Giese advises calling the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUITNOW to get advice on proven methods such as nicotine patches or gum, counseling and medications.

Tuesday’s alert from the local Health Department also gave advice for e-cigarette users with symptoms of the lung disease tied to vaping.

People who use vaping products and experience shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss are advised to talk to their health care provider, the local Health Department stated.

The Health Department’s advisory also sought the help of local doctors to warn patients about vaping and help in the effort to track and study the outbreak of lung disease.

Health care providers are asked to speak with patients about risks of vaping and ask patients about e-cigarette use. Area physicians who see patients suffering from severe pulmonary disease with no clear cause, but they do have a history of e-cigarette use within the past three months, to report those cases to local or state health officials.

As of Thursday, there were 34 confirmed cases of Wisconsin residents hospitalized for severe lung disease and damage from vaping, according to the state Department of Health Services. No deaths have been reported in Wisconsin, but the CDC confirmed fatal cases in in Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota and California. On Tuesday, Kansas officials reported a woman in that state was the sixth confirmed death in the U.S.

The Health Department, Eau Claire school district and local emergency workers are getting ready to start anti-vaping information campaigns with help from a local health care provider.

Marshfield Clinic Health System gave a $500 grant on Tuesday to Eau Claire’s police and fire departments and the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office to help fund social media advertising and handouts on e-cigarettes. Marshfield Clinic is providing a total of $2,000 in grants to help jump-start anti-vaping efforts throughout the Eau Claire area.

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