Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been critical of the vaping industry, and now Illinois lawmakers are considering statewide action.
A group of them gathered Monday to debate a proposal that would severely limit the availability of e-cigarette products in Illinois. But dozens of vaping proponents showed up to make their case as well.
As of Monday, there have been nine deaths, including one in Illinois, related to a mysterious lung disease linked to vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak, which has sickened more than 530 people across the country, has caused some to call for an immediate ban on the sale of all vaping products. Illinois lawmakers on Monday heard arguments on a proposal that would ban flavored e-cigarette products throughout the state. Supporters of a ban argue that the products are marketed toward children using catchy names and ad campaigns, and that they hook more youth on nicotine, even though the companies bill the devices as a smoking cessation tool.
“You have youth who have never laid their hands on cigarettes who began using e-cigarette devices, and then it’s a gateway to using combustible cigarettes,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul told a group of lawmakers at a hearing in the Bilandic Building in downtown Chicago.
Raoul says he’s looking into taking legal action against one of e-cigarette maker, Juul Labs, for deceptive marketing practices. He urged legislators to go beyond a ban on flavored e-cigarettes.
A spokesperson for the Respiratory Health Association likens the current outbreak to a rash of deaths from cyanide laced-Tylenol in the 1980s, and says the state needs an immediate ban on all vaping products until it has more answers.
“There are chemicals in the supposedly harmless water vapor that are known carcinogens, known reproductive toxins,” said Joel Africk, president of the association. “There’s a lot we don’t know, but what we do know is these are not good for you.”
Dozens of vaping proponents argued Monday that evidence for the rash of illnesses and deaths points to unregulated, so-called black market THC products.
“Our products, the nicotine containing vapor products with flavors, have been regulated by the FDA for the last three years,” said Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vaping Technology Association, a trade group that represents vaping companies. “The ingredients have not changed in the past two years, and the FDA has a list of all those ingredients. So what’s been debated will not do anything to address the problem.”
Other supporters of e-cigarettes say they fear that a statewide ban on flavored e-cigarettes will push adult users back to traditional tobacco-filled cigarettes.
“Nothing is safe. They are at the very least 95% safer than cigarettes,” said Vicky Vasconcellos, president of the Smoke Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois. “These are products intended for adult smokers. So you must always frame it like that. Should a non-smoker vape? Probably not. But if you’re a smoker and you can reduce your harm by 95%, it seems ridiculous not to.”
These groups say they’re in favor of some strict marketing guidelines so the products would not target youth. Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says health officials are still trying to determine a common thread that links all of the lung illnesses.
“We’re collecting all that information, getting names of products and we’re seeing so many different kinds of products, a single individual reporting that they’ve used 8-10 different products,” Ezike said. “So there’s not an effort yet, we’re trying to aggregate that data from all across the state.”
Recent legislation in Illinois put an extra tax on e-cigarette products and mandated stores get licenses to sell them. A study cited by the national lung association says that about a quarter of high school students are vaping.
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