Several neighboring counties are reporting cases of severe lung disease tied to vaping and McLean County is preparing for it by offering school interventions.
Champaign, Peoria and Tazewell counties have reported illnesses tied to the use of e-cigarettes, while the Illinois Department of Public Health reports more than 40 cases and one death statewide.
While no cases have been reported in McLean County, the county health department is offering education on the health effects of e-cigarettes.
County spokesperson Dion McNeal said the health department's health promotion team can come to a school upon request to help address nicotine addiction and a students' underlying reasons for turning to vaping.
“If they have been reported or caught maybe several times and it’s become an issue to the school’s safety, we will want them to be involved in this focus group or the intervention to show them the dangers of using the devices,” McNeal said.
Vaping advocates say it's a safer alternative than conventional cigarettes. Dr. Paul Pedersen, president of the Illinois State Medical Society and Chief Medical Officer at OSF Saint Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, stressed e-cigarettes are still harmful.
“That’s kind of like saying crashing in a car is better than crashing in an airplane,” Pedersen quipped.
Pedersen said what makes vaping especially dangerous is combining it with THC, the chemical compound in cannabis that creates the high, or with other substance. Medical experts suspect those additives are tied to at least some of those illness.
“I’ve heard that now they are adding cocaine and heroin and a variety of other things that you can vaporize and inhale,” Pedersen said.
As head of the ISMS, Pedersen has submitted letters to Illinois newspapers as part of a public education campaign.
Pedersen said he would support the Trump administration's proposed ban on flavored vaping products that target young people, but he worries a broader ban would push e-cigarettes to the black market. He said that would “likely create more issues than (it) would solve.”
“It is not safe in any form, flavored or not and that needs to be communicated over and over again,” he said.
Michigan has banned the sale of fruity, sweet or menthol vaping products. Some Illinois lawmakers want to see the same there.
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