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Vaping Summit, Legislative Briefing Set As Lung Illness Count Continues To Rise Nationwide

Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen
U.S. Air Force

An anti-vaping summit is planned this week in Honolulu and state lawmakers scheduled a briefing Thursday on the rising youth use of e-cigarettes. Both events come as hundreds of users around the country have developed a mysterious lung illness and over two dozen deaths have been reported.

The Hawaii Public Health Institute scheduled its annual tobacco conference before the nationwide outbreak of lung illness associated with e-cigarette use.

Since then, 26 deaths and 1,300 cases have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seven states have moved to restrict or ban the sale of vaping products.

Jessica Yamauchi, director of the Hawaii Public Health Institute, says this week’s summit will focus on other tobacco and vaping issues, but the speakers will provide an update on the investigation into the lung illnesses.

“Although most of them have been linked to some kind of THC, we also know that there are ones that do not contain THC or CBD oil, but contained nicotine. At this time, there is not one definitive cause,” she said.

Yamauchi said she hopes the bump in awareness of vaping-related health issues will spur further regulation of the industry at both the federal and state level.

The CDC is recommending that e-cigarette users refrain from using vaping products with either nicotine or THC. Hawaii officials last week joined the call, advising all e-cigarette users to stop vaping. That came after a second person in Hawaii, an adult, fell ill after vaping. Earlier, a Big Island teenager became sick after e-cigarette use.

Industry advocates maintain that the mystery illness originates with black market vaping products, rather than ones originating with legitimate manufacturers.

In September, two Wisconsin men were arrested for running a counterfeit vape pod operation out of their condo. Some 31,000 THC oil-filled cartridges were recovered on the scene.

The HIPHI Menthol and Flavored Tobacco Summit will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Koolau Ballrooms in Kaneohe.

On Thursday, lawmakers plan an informational briefing at 10 a.m. on youth vaping in state Capitol room 309.

The House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health plan to hear from state agencies and medical experts on the effects of vaping on the health of youth.

The high rates of vaping by high school and middle school students in the state have alarmed some lawmakers and educators. While 4.7 percent of Hawaii adults reported they use e-cigarette, 26 percent of public high school students say they vape. 

Hawaii's efforts to stop youth vaping stalled this year.

Gov. David Ige vetoed a bill that would have allowed public school teachers to confiscate students' smoking and called for fines up to $2,000 for anyone under 21 who violates laws on electronic smoking devices.

Ige raised concerns about legal definitions in the bill and unknown costs to implement the measure's provisions.

Lawmakers also failed to adopted legislation banning flavored tobacco. The state House Finance Committee chaired by Rep. Sylvia Luke killed the measure in April, noting that teens could still buy the flavored products online. 

The Hawaii Public Health Institute was among the groups that mounted the unsuccessful effort to get state lawmakers to ban flavored e-cigarettes, which vaping opponents often say target children.

The health institute plans to again push for a statewide ban on all flavored vaping products, on top of additional taxes and sales restrictions.

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