California Health Officials Urge Residents to Stop Vaping Immediately

A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette. California health officials Tuesday advised residents to stop vaping until a statewide investigation is completed. (AP photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

LOS ANGELES – California health officials issued an advisory Tuesday telling residents to immediately refrain from using e-cigarette devices until a statewide investigation into the risks associated with vaping is completed.

Flavored tobacco e-cigarettes – which use a battery to heat cartridges containing nicotine or cannabis oil – have been linked to more than 500 cases of severe respiratory illnesses and at least six deaths in recent months, according to national health officials.

In the Golden State, at least 90 people with a history of vaping were hospitalized for severe breathing problems or lung damage and two have died. 

California’s public health officer Charity Dean said in a statement Tuesday that officials are trying to figure out what material in vaping liquids is making people sick.

“We are seeing something that we have not seen before,” Dean said. “Vaping is not just a concern for youth; the vaping cases under investigation affect youth and adults alike.”

If someone experiences difficulty breathing after vaping, Dean said that person should give the used vaping cartridge to their doctor or state health officials for testing.

Shops and manufacturers distributing cannabis e-cigarettes are required to obtain a business license and undergo stringent safety tests but illegal dispensaries have undermined that work by selling untested products.

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order targeting illegal sales of flavored e-cigarettes and funding ads alerting youth to the links between vaping products and respiratory infections.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in unincorporated areas, meaning retailers will have 180 days to pull flavored tobacco products from shelves and obtain a county business license.

Dozens of students attended the meeting to support the ban, telling supervisors that the candy-flavored tobacco products are entrapping young people in nicotine addiction.

High school student Lisa Lu told supervisors a ban would help students avoid health risks.

“Big tobacco has been haunting my community and my campus,” Lu told the board. “Our classmates are getting so addicted they’re hitting their Juuls during class and getting expelled. These flavors mask the harms of addiction.”

Barbara Ferrer with the county’s Department of Public Health, told supervisors the ban will help “thwart youth access to flavored tobacco products” because 60% reported purchasing tobacco flavors from vape shops. 

Hundreds of tobacco retailers and e-cigarette users attended the meeting to oppose the ban, telling the board that shops already comply with age restrictions on tobacco sales.

But among 280 retailers inspected by county officials in the last year, 1 in 4 were found to have sold to minors, Ferrar told the board.

Tobacco retailer Andrew Bassem said that people trying to quit traditional cigarettes will be impeded by the ban, adding that it will not stop online purchases of flavored tobacco.

Joe Nicchitta with the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs told the board that the nearly 700 tobacco shops affected by the ban qualify for support in “identifying other market opportunities.”

Several residents asked that hookah lounges be exempted from the ban, telling supervisors that the smoking practice is part of a centuries-old tradition in the Middle East.

Ferrer told supervisors she opposed an exemption because more than 700,000 high school students reported to county health officials that they have used flavored tobacco hookah products in the past month.

Ferrer said flavored e-cigarette devices that are federally approved as “smoking cessation” tools will be exempted from the ban.

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