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First Belgian death linked to vaping was teen given e-cigarette for his 18th birthday

James Crisp
Raphaël Pauwaert, from Brussels, is thought to be Belgium's first

An 18-year-old given an electronic cigarette for his birthday is thought to be the first person in Belgium to die from vaping.  

Raphaël Pauwaert, from Brussels, died less than a month after getting pneumonia, which doctors attributed to vaping.  

"He played rugby, so he was a strong boy,” said his father Thierry, 45, “In one week, however, I saw him decay into a wreck. And after 26 days in a coma, we had to bury him."

Doctors said the death was most likely caused by his e-cigarette or its liquid filling, which a friend had given him as an 18th birthday gift. 

“I hope that the death of my son can help prevent other victims of the e-cigarette,” Mr Pauwaert said. 

On Monday, it was reported that Ewan Fisher, a British 16-year-old, needed life support after developing a vaping-linked respiratory disease. 

Thirty-nine deaths have been linked to vaping in the United States but British health regulators say that it is far less dangerous than smoking.  

Raphaël was struggling with what appeared to be an innocent cough, which escalated to shortness of breath. In a matter of days, he was admitted to hospital with severe respiratory problems.  

His levels of oxygen were so low that he was put into a medical coma but after 26 days, with his lungs “petrified”, the decision was made to turn off his ventilator on November 6. 

“To find the cause of the pneumonia that cost Raphaël the life, the doctors examined all possible causes. The only hypothesis that remains is the e-cigarette or its filling," Mr Pauwaert told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. 

Raphaël used a legal liquid filling containing CBD, the non psychoactive part of cannabis. 

“We suspect that inhalation from the e-cigarette is responsible for the pulmonary affliction and the subsequent death of Raphaël,” Dr Luc-Marie Jacquet, of the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels, said. 

There are estimated to be about 300,000 users of e-cigarettes and about two million smokers in Belgium.