Lawmakers hear from Health Department, experts on vaping crisis

Lawmakers hear from Health Department, experts on vaping crisis
(Source: Tony Dejak)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The health department says an adult patient on Kauai is the state's second confirmed vaping-related illness case.

As investigations continue into what's causing the nationwide epidemic, officials are looking at ways to get these products out of the hands of Hawaii's youth.

"If we do find a specific product or device that's associated with this, will take enforcement action and pull that product," said state health director Bruce Anderson. "There's no question."

Anderson says 26 percent of Hawaii's public school students are using electronic smoking devices -- that's twice the national average.

"This issue is very personal to me because I know people my age who sell e-cigarettes and e-juices," said Farrington High School senior Samantha Domingo. "And they have connections with people who are willing to sell to kids, even if it's illegal."

Juul, the world's largest vape manufacturer announced Thursday it is immediately suspending sales of its fruity e-cigarette flavors, while the Food and Drug Administration completes a safety review of its products.

While vaping opponents are calling this a win, Hawaii's attorney general says an outright ban on all products and devices is not that simple without knowing what's causing people to get sick.

"We have to look at what happened in New York and Michigan where they just tried to do a flat out ban, and then we had industry and businesses coming in, saying you're going to be hurting what is a proper cessation method for adult users," said AG Clare Connors.

In the mean time, Connors says the state can work with the counties to crackdown on businesses and individuals who are selling to minors.

She says it's also critical the state's policies are updated to ensure e-cigarettes are treated the same as traditional ones.

Right now, there is no additional tax, permitting, or licensing required for e-cigs, and online sales are allowed.

"Pulling in e-cigarettes under the tobacco framework will do a lot to help us regulate online sales to help us try to get a handle on these issues," Connors said.

Connors says other states have succeeded in banning flavored vape products by suing the manufacturers.

She says that's something she's looking at very closely.

Researchers say additional taxes would make the products too expensive for many kids.

But not all lawmakers are on board.

State Rep. Romy Cachola asked health officials if they would study whether vaping may be helping kids with school.

“Is it possible then that you folks should follow up whether or not by vaping that grades improve? Because some of them say I’m well alert and my grades are good,” said Cachola.

The state health department issued a health advisory earlier this month, urging everyone to stop vaping immediately until more is known about why people across the country who use vaping devices are getting gravely sick and even dying.

Nationally, there have been more than 1,000 reports of serious lung illnesses linked to vaping and 18 people have died.

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