NOVATO, Calif. - A 45-year old woman who took up vaping about six months ago has died from complications related to the use of e-cigarettes, the Marin County Department of Health of Human Services reported on Wednesday, although the coroner's office countered there is no hard evidence yet for that claim.
If the assertion later turns out to be true, her death would mark the fourth vaping-associated fatality in California since July, according to the health department.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 39 deaths nationally, and more than 2,000 incidents of lung disease linked to e-cigarettes.
“With sadness, we report that there has been a death in our community suspected to be caused by severe lung injury associated with vaping,” Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said. “The message is simple: it’s not safe to vape. Until we have a better understanding of the cause of this outbreak, it’s best to avoid these products entirely.”
Willis said the woman was previously healthy.
Marin County Chief Deputy Coroner Robert Fielding identified the woman as Amanda Arconti. Records show she had an apartment in Vacaville, but the health department said she lived in Marin County. She died Nov. 7 at Novato Community Hospital.
In an interview, Fielding added that Arconti had previous tobacco use before she started using e-cigarettes, according to conservations he had with her family.
On its surface, Fielding said the case appears to be linked to either smoking or vaping, but an autopsy will determine a final cause of death.
"At the end of the day, we have to do our due diligence," Fielding said. "I don't know if we'll ever be able to connect this to vaping. I'm not sure there will ever be a smoking gun as to her cause of death that 'vaping did this.' It may turn out that it's a contributing factor."
Fielding added that using tobacco products, either with traditional cigarettes or with electronic ones, is an unhealthy habit. "People shouldn't be surprised," he said. "These products are not designed to be ingested in your body."
Arconti's brother and aunt, in separate Facebook posts, said that "Mandy" was diagnosed with double pneumonia a day before she died. Her aunt said that she leaves behind a 5-year-old son. The relatives did not return phone calls and messages from KTVU.
Willis told KTVU that the woman presented all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention symptoms of a classic vaping case and he was comfortable labeling her death as such. He said she had nicotine products in her home, as well as unmarked substances, so it will take weeks to figure out exactly what killed her. As for the pneumonia, Willis said he would describe her illness as a "chemical pneumonia," brought on by vaping.
Her friend, Vicky Merritt of Concord, called Arconti a "good, upbeat lady." Merritt said she didn't even know that her friend had started vaping.
Health officials used her death to warn about the dangers of vaping and tobacco use, especially among youth.
Many Marin County cities and towns banned the local sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products in 2019, following the County’s adoption of an ordinance in 2018. Most of these local ordinances do not go into effect until January 2020.
While the specific products or compounds that cause lung injury after e-cigarette use are not yet known, the CDC has found Vitamin E acetate is likely to be contributor in some cases. Vitamin E is an oil-based vitamin that is sometimes added to vaping liquids, especially those containing the psycho-active cannabis compound THC. However, many confirmed cases of lung injury have not been tied to this compound.
Marin County Public Health is working with the California Department of Public Health and the CDC to obtain and test samples to determine the specific products that may have contributed to the woman's death.
IF YOU NEED HELP RELATED TO SMOKING OR VAPING:
- Vape Users: 1-844-8-NO-VAPE (1-844-866-8273)
- Smokers: 1-800-NO-BUTTS (1-800-662-8887)
KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this report.