Local officials prepare for possible vaping-related illnesses

Jonathan O’Brien | Contributing | Contributing Writer

King of Smoke sells vape products in addition to other smoking paraphernalia, on Sept. 25
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan O’Brien

Following more than 1,000 illnesses nationwide and the first vaping-related death in Georgia, Baldwin County health officials are getting prepared for vaping-related illnesses in case they emerge in Middle Georgia. 

“Absolutely we’re prepared,” Dr. Rebecca Gay of Navicent Health Baldwin said. “We’ve definitely started asking more questions and finding out about people’s vaping history. Previously, we’ve asked about smoking history because of the dangers of tobacco use, but we haven’t taken a hard look at vaping until these incidents came to light.” 

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspect THC-containing products may be the culprit, though more information is needed. 

According to the CDC, among the 578 patients, 78% reported using THC-containing products and 37% reported exclusive use. Additionally, 58% of those patients reported using nicotine-containing products and 17% reported exclusive use. 

Baldwin County is one of 13 Middle Georgia counties making up the North Central Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health.  

“Should a [vaping-related illness] occur within Baldwin County our district epidemiologist would work with both the county and state health departments to conduct an investigation,” said Michael Hokanson, spokesman for the district. 

E-cigarettes and vapes were originally marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. 

“The fact of the matter is we don’t know,” Gay said. “It’s not water that you are vaping. It’s a complex solution of chemicals that has been changed from its original state.” 

Navicent has put together several lines of defense aimed at helping patients suffering from these vaping illnesses. These include: using steroids, supplemental oxygen and ventilator support. 

A response to a local illness would be handled by the hospital in conjunction with the Department of Public Health.

“We have, of course, been speaking with hospitals as well as our regional health care coalitions,” Hokanson said. “We have provided health alerts to our contacts which includes information about potential exposures and actions requested by healthcare providers.” 

With more than 1,000 people across the country sickened some states have decided to ban the sale of e-cigarettes, and in states with no ban some consumers are making the choice to stay away. 

“It has slowed down a little bit,” said Savannah Thompson, manager at King of Smoke in Milledgeville. “For some people once they see it on the news they decide to quit.” 

Thompson believes synthetic and black-market products along with vitamin E acetate, which is often added to THC, are to blame for the illnesses. The CDC’s most recent report seems to confirm part of Thompson’s theory. 

Thompson does see the need to add some government regulations on where the products are sold to prevent them from falling into the hands of minors. She also thinks product transparency, “putting all the ingredients on the bottle,” would help. 

Thompson blames the popularity of Juul on social media for the rise in younger people using them. 

“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, I need a Juul’ when one pod is a whole pack of cigarettes,” Thompson said.