Vaping - What’s all the huff about?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Benton County to evaluate tobacco policies in response to outbreak of vaping related lung illness

After a multi-state outbreak of vaping associated lung injury resulted in 47 deaths, Benton County health officials are taking action to reduce the increasing popularity of vaping devices, especially among youth.

According to Andy Chuinard, Manager of the Tobacco Prevention Education Program, Benton County will be working with municipalities to explore the prohibition of all flavored tobacco products and price discounts, and strengthen enforcement of the tobacco retail license program county-wide. These measures come on the heels of a 180 day statewide ban on the sale of all flavored vape products enacted by Governor Kate Brown in early October 2019. 

Vaping is the act of heating vape fluid with an electronic cigarette or vape pen and inhaling and exhaling the vapor. Most vape fluids contain either nicotine or THC, the active compounds in tobacco and marijuana, as well as many other chemicals added for flavor and texture.

Of particular concern is the increasing popularity of vaping among youth. Among national cases of hospitalized patients, 78 percent were under 35 years old, with a median age of 24 years according to the Center for Disease Control. According to Oregon’s Healthy Teen Survey, use of vaping products among youth went up by nearly 80 percent between 2017 and 2019. The same survey found e-cigarette use among eleventh graders increased three-fold from 2013 to 2017, from 1 in 30 eleventh graders to nearly 1 in 8 in Benton County. 

Increases in youth vaping can in part be attributed to the development and marketing of vape products towards youth. These sleek devices come in a variety of disarming flavors like mango and creme brulee. Among Oregon high school students who use e-cigarettes exclusively, nearly 90 percent use flavored e-cigarette products (Oregon Healthy Teens Survey). Spending to advertise e-cigarettes has increased rapidly since 2011 with about 69% of middle and high school students exposed to e-cigarette advertisements in retail stores, on the internet, in magazines and on television according to the Center for Disease Control.

In response to this public health emergency, the Benton County Board of Commissioners, acting in their capacity as the Board of Health, released a statement urging people to cease using vape products. The Board of Health also expressed their support of broader prevention efforts and tobacco policy enforcement in Benton County. 

According to the Board of Health statement, in addition to these policy measures, the county hopes to implement more meaningful youth cessation and prevention activities. Health Centers and direct service providers within the Health Department will be reviewing tobacco and e-cigarette screening protocols, as well as providing support and referral services for tobacco cessation.

Despite early optimism that vaping devices may be less harmful than cigarettes, health officials are in agreement that these products pose significant risks, especially in youth. The lack of regulation of vape fluid means potential for contaminated and exposure to harmful chemicals. In addition, long term effects of vaping are still unknown. In light of the growing number of cases of vaping related lung disease, County officials will continue evaluating and updating current tobacco policies and ordinances to address new challenges posed by an evolving tobacco industry.

Community members ready to quit tobacco are encouraged to contact their provider or the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or online at www.quitnow.net/oregon. The Quit Line is a free telephone and web-based counseling service to help Oregonians quit using tobacco and nicotine products.