Gov. Mike Parson says Missouri has a problem with the number of young people smoking electronic cigarettes and the state is trying to get out in front of a problem that he says could explode. So far, Missouri has had 35 vaping-related lung illnesses and two deaths linked to vaping. During a press conference today at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Parson says a multi-agency effort has formed to launch the Clear the Air campaign about the dangers of youth vaping.
“I’m sitting here as a parent, with kids and with six grandparents, you’re always concerned about things like this. They’re in the school systems now. What is their version of vaping – is it cool? A lot of kids think that’s the way to do it. I think it’s so important for them to understand how harmful this could be too,” says Parson. “I think for us to reach out and make this a statewide project, I think, has a lot of validity to it.”
The campaign is in response to an executive order Parson signed last month to launch the effort.
When the Legislature begins the next session in January, Parson wants lawmakers to consider potential measures to address vaping in the Show-Me State. He’s not ready to commit to a ban on flavored vaping products that seem to be all the rage with youth.
Parson says it’s too early to consider any lawsuits against e-cigarette companies.
“I think, frankly, you’re going to have to have some hearings, you’re going to have people who are experts in that, that understand the research side of it. Then we’re going to have to make a decision,” says Parson. “Why we’re doing this at a fast pace is because I think we’re going to have to make a decision pretty quick. You know, you’ve got two people who have died from this.”
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams says the rate of vaping has doubled in the last two years among high school students, especially with seniors. He says the campaign’s mission is two-fold.
“Our mission is to change that trajectory, as the governor said, both long term for teenagers and youth, who we think are particularly susceptible to the harms of vaping,” says Williams. “And also in the short term, those people who may be susceptible to Vitamin E, which the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) now thinks may be a primary ideologic agent for EVALI or e-cigarette vaping associated-lung injury. We think it’s incredibly dangerous to put Vitamin E in vaping products.”
Missouri K-12 Public Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven says the risks of youth vaping go beyond the lungs.
“The toxins and additive drugs children may be exposed to when vaping can cause damage to areas of their developing brains that specialize in attention, learning and mood – all of which are obviously key components to their academic and personal well-being,” says Vandeven.
As part of the campaign, fact sheets for teachers, parents, and medical providers are also in the works, along with posters for school facilities. Through communication with district administrators and a variety of other means, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will give Clear the Air materials to Missouri schools and families at no cost.
According to Missouri PTA President Susan Rupert, about 20% of Missouri students are addicted to vaping. Cessation and addiction treatment information will also be made available to schools.
Dottie Taylor, State Supervisor of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, says her office’s enforcement operations show that 83% of Missouri retailers are checking IDs and refusing sales to those who are under age 18.
“That does still mean that we’ve got 17% are selling. We believe that continuing our enforcement efforts, along with merchant education and training, as well as continuing to focus on the dangers of vaping can move the percentage of retailers in compliance to 100%.”
The campaign has been released today on YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat and on a website – stopthevapemissouri.org
Clear the Air materials can be viewed or downloaded from the DHSS website.
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