Area health departments respond to vaping

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File – In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette in Portland, Maine. Oregon’s public health physician said Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, that a person who contracted a severe respiratory illness and died after using an e-cigarette had purchased a vaping device containing marijuana oil at a state-legal dispensary. The death is the second linked by public health officials nationwide to vaping and the first linked to an e-cigarette purchased at a dispensary. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

McLean County, Ill. (WCIA) — As respiratory illnesses and deaths related to vaping or smoking e-cigarettes are on the rise, area health departments are weighing how to respond. 

More than 40 cases — some from Champaign and Peoria counties — of severe pulmonary disease have been reported to the Illinois Department of Health so far, and one person this year has died after being admitted to a hospital after vaping. 

Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson from the Illinois Department of Public Health said that while Gov. J.B. Pritzker has formed a multi-agency “workgroup” to study the issue, IDPH has also been “meeting with various groups of youth in various parts of the state to hear their thoughts on vaping – why they start, what they are seeing, why they continue, etc.”

Youth vaping prompted officials in McLean County to offer up their Health Promotion team to area schools for “vaping intervention” — focus groups aimed at curbing the habit. 

“The purpose of this intervention is to help students recognize the dangers, consider underlying reasons they are turning to vaping and address possible nicotine addiction,” the department said in a press release.

Arnold said the state doesn’t have a “formal” plan to recreate such groups beyond the work they’re already doing with various young adults.

Officials in Vermillion, Ford, Macon and Coles county are still weighing how to best use their resources. 

In Coles County, the public health department is working in conjunction with area schools to update their policies on tobacco and vaping or e-cigarette usage. 

“We’re trying to give them the most current information,” administrator Diana Stenger said.

The department is also in the early stages of forming an anti-vaping coalition made up of teachers, principals, staffers and other stakeholders. 

“We want to get perspective from all of them,” she said.  

Vermillion County Public Health Department administrator Doug Toole said his department didn’t yet have any groups formed specific to vaping, but believed it could be a useful tool.  

And in Ford County, administrator Christy Wallace said she’s still in information-gathering mode while simultaneously trying to recruit members to a coalition aimed at promoting tobacco-free public spaces. 

“I’m having a hard time getting people together even for that,” she said. “The first meeting I had, one person mentioned that they had a conflict of interest — because they were a smoker. Others feel their life is overwhelmingly busy already.”   

When it comes to adding vaping to her county’s public health department prevention measures, Wallace said she’s watching “what’s going on with the vaping issues from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and other stuff that is occurring. I’m that process.”

A spokesperson from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department was not immediately available.

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