Lawmakers, health experts look to combat vaping epidemic in South Carolina

Three cases of pulmonary disease linked to vaping or e-cigarette used confirmed

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —The epidemic of illnesses related to vaping and e-cigarette use is also being felt in the Palmetto State.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says there have already been three confirmed cases of severe lung illness caused by using these products.

More than 450 people across the country have been sent to the hospital as a result of breathing problems related to their use of vape pens and e-cigarettes.

One public health expert says he’s more concerned about one group in particular.

“The real public health risks to society are what’s going on in youth. Vaping in youth is a bad outcome and the fact that there’s strong evidence that youth who vape are four times more likely to go on to smoking cigarettes,” said Dr. Anthony Alberg, a Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatics at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.

The direct cause of these illnesses or the long-term health effects of using vape pens or e-cigarettes is unknown, according to Dr. Alberg.

He says it could take a matter of weeks for teenagers who start vaping at a young age to become addicted to nicotine.

To combat this growing trend across the state, Rep. Beth Bernstein (D-Richland County) says she plans on filing a bill to stop the sale of flavored vaping products.

“97% of the adolescents who vape, 97% of those use the flavored products, so if we can take that out of the equation, I think that could help significantly reduce the number of adolescents gravitating towards those products,” Rep. Bernstein said.

Governor Henry McMaster (R-South Carolina) signed one of Bernstein’s bills into law earlier this year that banned vaping on school grounds and made it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 from entering a vape store without an adult.

She says that was only the first step, and more needs to be done to keep people safe.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we understand it’s not safe, children should not be using these products because they’re known to be highly addictive,” Rep. Bernstein said.

Dr. Alberg says even with all the risks associated with those products, he’s glad several groups are taking action.

“If anything good is coming out of this outbreak is that it’s really created the impetus for states and the federal government to seriously consider banning the flavors that are so attractive to youth,” Dr. Alberg said.

A spokesperson with Juul Labs released a statement, saying the following:

“JUUL Labs, which exists to offer adult smokers an alternative to combustible cigarettes, has been monitoring the situation closely. To be clear, the ingredients of our products do not include THC, any compound derived from cannabis, or vitamin E compounds like those found in cannabis-related products. We appreciate the work of the CDC, FDA and other public health authorities and are confident that they will get to the bottom of this issue.”

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