Illinois lawmakers are considering a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products.
It comes as national public health authorities have identified 530 illnesses and eight deaths related to vaping. Those figures include at least 69 cases and one death in Illinois.
At a hearing Monday afternoon, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, told lawmakers her agency is still investigating alongside federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While we have yet to clearly identify the causative agent responsible for the lung injuries and the death, what is clear is that there is nothing healthy about vaping, with potentially heightened consequences for youth and young adults,” Ezike said.
Beyond the immediate health crisis, lawmakers are concerned about the rise in teen vaping. Although they passed legislation raising the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21, they’re now considering a ban on the flavored e-cigarettes favored by young people.
Teen smoking had been trending downward, but the rising popularity of vaping is reversing that trend.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul told lawmakers he thinks that’s because of e-cigarettes.
“I was with a colleague of mine recently who indicated that their high schooler joked that there was a toilet and a urinal in the vaping room, and how convenient that was for them to put it there — because it’s so prominent in both high schools and middle schools that the bathroom is where you go to vape,” Raoul said.
Raoul cautioned, however, that while he supports a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, he thinks the vaping problem is more complex and demands more careful consideration from the General Assembly.
“You have to realize that a lot of the harm is growing out of the black market,” Raoul said. “Reflexive policies that are not fully thought out might have the reverse impact of growing the black market, which is the more harmful supplier of damaging e-cigarette devices.”
Representatives from the vaping industry, like Tony Abboud of the Vapor Technology Association, urged lawmakers to tread carefully, and not do away with a product that helps adults quit smoking.
“The danger here is that we as a body decide to rip these products out of the market and take them out of the hands of adult smokers who — whether you like it or not — are relying upon fruity flavors in order to stay away from combustible cigarettes,” Abboud said.
The legislation is House Bill 3883.