Milwaukee Health Commissioner doubles down on vape warning: 'We want people to be aware'

MILWAUKEE -- We're getting more answers about the Milwaukee Health Department's warning to stop vaping. After issuing the alert on Aug. 28, lung illnesses related to vaping have climbed to more than 400 cases -- including three deaths. Now, the health department is working with police to crack down on a growing problem.

"Recently, we discovered that there is a cluster of lung-related injuries or illnesses tied to e-cigarette use or vaping," said Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, Commission of Health.

Last week, there were 16 cases across the state of chemical pneumonia suspected to be causing by vaping THC. Four of those cases were in Milwaukee. Since then, the number of cases statewide has grown to 34, with Milwaukee adding one new hospitalization and one new case under investigation. Dr. Kowalik says all are teenagers or young adults.

Jeanette Kowalik

"We just want people to be aware that there are risks associated with vaping," Kowalik said. "In the meantime, we are suggesting folks stay away from vaping."

FOX6 News asked Kowalik if they should fully stop vaping and she responded, "Yes."

Kowalik's warning came under fire from groups like the American Vaping Association, pointing out THC -- the psychoactive substance in cannabis -- is illegal in Wisconsin and unfairly targets those who are vaping store-bought e-cigarettes.

"Obviously, the State of Wisconsin has not legalized marijuana whether medical or recreational form," said Kowalik. "Even getting to the bottom of, OK, where are people getting these products from? Are they making them?"

Kowalik said her department is in the "early stages" of working with the Milwaukee Police Department to get illegal vaping products off the street. Long-term health effects of vaping are still being analyzed.

"Until we can get to the bottom of the true source of these injuries, we are still going to hold the line on vaping," said Kowalik.

FOX6 News reached out to MPD for comment, but did not hear back. The Milwaukee Health Department is also urging other health officials to document THC vaping and submit their findings to the state, so an accurate number of illnesses can be recorded.