The governor has signed an executive order today requiring three state agencies to develop a public service campaign about the dangers of vaping among youth. During a press conference at the Missouri Capitol, Gov. Mike Parson calls youth vaping an epidemic. He points to data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey that says the use of vaping devices among high school students increasing by 80% nationally from 2017-18.

Gov. Parson at podium speaking to reporters during a Missouri Capitol press conference on Oct. 15, 2019 (Photo courtesy of Missourinet)

“I think the whole concept of vaping was to try to keep people from smoking and I’m not sure that that’s what it’s really done,” says Parson. “I’m not sure we haven’t created more problems. I don’t know that there’s been enough research on that to have the answers to what all that affect is. We know there’s problems.”

State Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams says 23 vaping-related illnesses and one vaping related death have been reported in Missouri. Most of the cases involve patients between the ages of 15 and 24. He says Missouri’s cases reflect the national trend in the use of illegal vaping cartridges.

“If you look nationally, about 70% of those are associated with THC and illegal cartridges. The other 30% is unknown,” says Williams. “These appear to be tampered products, but that’s not to conflate that the normal products are leading to an increased risk of addiction. There are really two issues here – one is the illegal products and the other one is the ones that are legal, but we think that many parents and friends think do not hold harm and we don’t believe that to be true.”

Williams says vaping has been around for about 12 years. He’s says over the last two years, the number of young people who are vaping has doubled.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety says the state has about 6,000 retailers selling tobacco products and some of those sell vaping merchandise. Those under the age of 18 are banned from buying nicotine vaping products in Missouri.

Missouri K-12 Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven says a child’s brain develops until they are 25 years old.

“Children and adolescents who are exposed to toxins or additive drugs through vaping, risk damage to areas of the brain that specialize in attention, learning and mood – all of which play key factors in the academic and personal well-being of our students,” says Vandeven.

Will Missouri join a chorus of other entities suing e-cigarette companies? Parson says it might happen.

“I think some of the school districts have already started that from that level,” says Parson. “I would assume the state, I’m assuming there will be – just because of this issue and where it’s going. I’ll go back to what I said earlier, it’s just such an unknown right now.”

According to Chris Nuelle with the Missouri Attorney General’s office, no pending lawsuits on the issue are out there but he says nothing is off the table.

Parson also says some of the issues surrounding vaping might have to go through the legislative process, but it’s too early to tell.

The Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County has sued e-cigarette maker Juul claiming Juul Labs has harmed its students through deceptive marketing and misconduct. The district has joined several others across the country, including one near Kansas City, to sue the company.

President Donald Trump has said he plans to ban the vaping products that attract kids, including the flavored nicotine products.

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