Leaving most policy related to vaping in the hands of the General Assembly, Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order Tuesday, Oct. 15, ordering departments of Health and Senior Services, Elementary and Secondary Education and Public Safety to roll out the Clear the Air campaign, aimed at educating all Missourians on vaping risks.
As of Oct. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,080 lung injury cases and 18 deaths across the country this year associated with vaping products, DHSS Director Randall Williams said. In Missouri, there have been 23 total confirmed cases of vape-related illness including one death. The majority of these cases are found in people age 15 to 24.
“If you look nationally, about 70% of those are linked to THC in illegal cartridges,” Williams said. THC is the main intoxicant found in marijuana. “The other 30% are unknown. ... These appear to be tampered products. That is not to conflate that vaping products are leading to an increased risk of addiction. There are really two issues here. One is the illegal products, and the other are legal products that we think many parents and friends think do not hold harm.”
The listed departments have 30 days to come up with and implement a statewide campaign educating, warning and discouraging vaping among youth. The executive order also directs departments to review cases and vaping-related injuries to tailor the campaign to counter marketing practices targeting younger generations.
“Providing safe and healthy environments for our students is paramount to ensuring each child has the chance to graduate prepared for success,” Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “Children and adolescents who are exposed to toxins or additive drugs through vaping risk damage to parts of the brain which specialize in attention, learning and mood, all of which play key factors in the academic and personal well-being of our students.”
Vandeven said DESE will focus on preparing school staff to recognize the wide range of shapes and sizes of vaping devices while adequately training and supporting them in efforts to stop vaping behaviors in the younger population.
“Flavored nicotine products and targeted marketing have made vaping more appealing to young people,” Parson said. “The whole concept of vaping was to help keep people from smoking. I’m not sure that that is what it has really done. I’m not sure we haven’t created more problems.”
“This is a true epidemic,” Williams said, “... partly driven by the fact that many young people do not believe there are immediate or long-term risks.”
Relying on more research from the Federal Drug Administration to be released, Parson said vaping is a long-term issue that will require long-term strategy.Announcement of the order was done on the governor’s Facebook page Tuesday. After the announcement, more than 100 people left comments.
”The more we learn about vaping the more concerns we have. Who knew four to five years ago that this product would and could be used inappropriately and lead to lung disease and possibly death,” wrote Dee Seibert.Anne Clazone had a different opinion, saying the matter is one for youths’ parents not the government.
”We have a bigger problem than vaping, government trying to run our lives and be the parents. Please get back to more important things like reducing the size of government and its interference in our lives. Instead of worrying about vaping, how about looking into how the Missouri Health Department is putting obstacles in the way of parents who have religious objections to vaccines, which have harmed many more children than vaping,” she wrote.
While many comments gave praise to Parson, David LaCerda Jr. said vaping helped him quit smoking.
”Seven years ago I was told if I didn’t quit cigarettes I was going to be on oxygen by 50. Six years later, using vapor, I gave up a two-plus pack a day habit,” he wrote. “My lungs are clear. I can breathe when I get to the top of the stairs. My juice of choice Junior Mints candy. Please educate yourself and staff.”