DES MOINES, Iowa – More than 20 new cases of illness linked to vaping have been reported in Iowa in the past month, and experts warn e-cigarettes should be avoided until more research is done into their health impacts.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 22% of Iowa 11th-graders reported vaping in 2018, putting them at risk for a lifetime addiction to niccotine. State epidemiologist Caitlin Pedati said despite 16,000 illnesses reported nationwide, doctors have yet to identify one single cause. Meanwhile, the number of cases in Iowa keeps rising.

“Forty-nine cases of respiratory illness associated with vaping and e-cigarette use, and so I think it’s just important that people understand that there are risks that are associated with the use of these products,” Pedati said.

She added the majority of the illnesses have involved vaping products that contain THC, the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. So far, there have been no deaths reported in Iowa, but nationwide 34 deaths linked to vaping have been reported.

About 16% of Iowans still smoke cigarettes – a higher rate than in neighboring Minnesota, at 14%, but lower than in Missouri, which is estimated at 20%. Some smokers report using vaping products as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, but e-cigarettes have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a safe or effective method to help smokers quit.

Pedati warned that continued nicotine consumption in any form is unsafe.

“Anybody who’s thinking about quitting smoking should know that it’s one of the most important – if not the most important – thing you can do for your health,” she said. “And just because it might not work the first time, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.”

Fifty years ago, nearly 42% of American adults smoked cigarettes, compared with 14% in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nonetheless, the CDC says nearly a half-million Americans still die each year due to smoking and secondhand smoke exposure.