Officials with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services have confirmed the first death associated with the use of vaping, or flavored e-cigarettes.

Public Information Officer Jon Ebelt said the individual was in their late teens with a history of using vaping products, however, the victim’s gender and hometown could not be disclosed due to security concerns.

Ebelt included a personal message from Governor Steve Bullock:

“My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family who has lost a loved one way too soon,” Governor Bullock said. “This tragedy truly hits home. I urge Montanans to take the recommendations being issued by public health officials very seriously until more is known about this public health crisis.”

Updating the statistics in Montana, there have been three confirmed cases of pulmonary illness associated with vaping, and now one death. There have been 26 deaths nationwide as of Wednesday, October 16.

State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said the search is on for the actual cause of the vaping-related illnesses and deaths.

“That’s the million dollar question that we’re all trying to figure out,” said Dr. Holzman. “Sadly, we don’t have an answer, and that’s where this investigation is headed, so that we can get a handle on this outbreak. We have a broad definition of what might fall into these cases. Hopefully, we’ll get an answer and soon, but at this point in time we don’t have a good understanding of what’s happening. We just know that a lot of people are getting very sick.”

Holzman again emphasized the importance of ceasing the use of vaping products.

DPHHS State Epidemiologist Laura Williamson asks anyone who may have symptoms of pulmonary disease to save any leftover products so that state officials can test them.

“For those who have been affected, we’re asking them to save their vaping products,” said Williamson. “The DPHHS is working with local health departments across the state and conduct an interview with patients. We’re asking patients in great detail about how they vape and where they bought the vaping products. We’re also asking them if they noticed any changes in their vapes. Do they taste different, do they look different? We’re really trying to get to the bottom of what is causing this illness. We are coordinating with the FDA. They have a lab that is testing these products and we’re working on trying to determine what substance or substances might be causing this illness.”

KGVO News asked Ebelt if the State of Montana has received any official notice of a legal challenge to Governor Bullock’s proposed ban of flavored e-cigarettes set to start on October 22.

“We’re certainly following what’s going across the nation,” said Ebelt. “At this point in time in Montana we don’t have any knowledge of that happening, but if it does, it will go through the court system like it is in other states.”

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