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SW MN agencies respond to vaping health reports

MARSHALL — Public health officials regionally and nationwide are staying in step as much as possible with medical findings that show a link between e-cigarette vaping and lung injuries

Staff from the six-county Southwest Health and Human Services made a presentation last week to their executive board. It was part of a region-wide response to health-related uncertainties associated with vaping activity.

Health data is emerging amidst widespread public acceptance of e-cigarette products. Surveys shows that one of four teenagers report using them, while three out of four that were polled said they don’t consider them a health issue.

“The number of documented health cases is a reason to be concerned,” said SHHS Public Health Educator Jennifer Nelson. “We get updates each week about the number of reports. The total just continues to go up.”

Nationally data shows 1,300 confirmed cases in 49 states of lung injuries linked to vaping. Total deaths climbed to 29 altogether, spread out among 21 states.

In Minnesota the most recent report showed 73 confirmed cases of lung injuries, 32 additional cases under review for possible confirmation, and three deaths.

Public health staff said there’s no product recall taking place because e-cigarettes are not as yet regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has demanded lists of ingredients from manufacturers, but they have until a May 2020 deadline to provide information.

“To completely study the potential health issues, we have to know what’s in the products,” said Ann Orren, a Marshall based public health program coordinator. “The main ways to respond for now are in the areas of public education and public health policy.”

Case reports have involved patients who range in age from 14 to 75. The popularity of e-cigarettes extends to older age groups, which coincides with marketing efforts that have promoted them as a safe, flavorful alternative to standard tobacco.

SHHS has thus far provided informational presentations to nine different schools in its six county area (Lincoln, Lyon, Redwood, Murray, Pipestone and Rock counties). There have also been two additional community-based events, social media materials, and newsletter information.

“We’ve been working to reach parents, teachers, and community members who can pass information along to students and the general public,” said SHHS Public Health Director Carol Biren. “With children and teenagers, there’s often a fine line between educating them about the risks and adding to the temptation (to use the products). We’re aiming to reach out with help from adults who see them on a daily basis.”

She said legislation that restricts all tobacco-related purchasing to those who are 21 or older is gaining popularity in Minnesota. Although that guideline hasn’t been enacted statewide, 52 cities and counties have approved the restriction.

Biren said public interest and public participation in efforts that promote vaping-related health awareness have been consistently strong, which indicates potential to limit the number of reported vaping-lung injury cases even before the FDA undertakes product reviews.

“People are very interested,” she said. “Everyone agrees about the need to be aware of any products that we consume, and the need to share information in ways that protect kids.”

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