The Sauk County Health Department is urging people to stop using vape and e-cigarette products.
The health advisory, issued in partnership with similar agencies in Adams, Juneau and Richland counties, comes after the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 35 cases of people hospitalized with severe lung or respiratory illnesses. All patients had reported recent use of vaping or e-cigarette products, according to DHS.
A majority of patients who reported using vape products recently before becoming ill say they used the products to inhale THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, according the state Department of Health Services. DHS warns cartridges containing THC may contain harmful, unknown chemicals or ingredients.
DHS has reported patients’ symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, nausea, vomiting and fever.
Sauk County Health officer Timothy Lawther said there has been one reported case of the vaping-associated illness in Sauk County, and hopes the advisory will help prevent further cases.
“I think it’s important to get ahead of it,” said Lawther. “It’s getting to the point of being an epidemic, I think we’ve got to be safe and we’ve got to be proactive.”
According to the advisory, one in five high schoolers report having vaped in 2018, even though the products only are legal for people over the age of 18.
Kayla Arthur, owner of M of N Vapors & CBD in Baraboo, said she and the other employee at her store work hard to prevent the products from getting into the hands of minors.
Arthur says she checks the ID of all customers, whether they are buying flavored vape products or vaping units. She said they will decline to sell to an adult who has a minor with them or if she suspects the adult plans to provide the minor with vape products.
“We do our best in here to ID everyone that comes in,” said Arthur. “It’s the law. I don’t want a ticket and I’m sure they don’t want a ticket.”
She also said she stocks and sells products that are certified to be produced in a safe environment and do not have any harmful or unknown additives that could cause illnesses.
“That could be a middle ground, making sure that every product on the market is safe and certified,” Arthur said about discussions among lawmakers to ban flavored products.
Arthur said she believes vaping is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes because vaping does not contain tar, and has helped many people, including herself, to quit smoking.
“I feel like they are targeting something that doesn’t really need to be targeted. If you look at it honestly, there is like 1,300-plus deaths from cigarettes a day, compared to vaping which has less,” Arthur said. “They want to ban vaping, but why aren’t they banning cigarettes?”
After reports from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention of 380 cases of respiratory illnesses across 36 states, both New York and Michigan banned the sale of flavored vape and e-cigarette products. President Donald Trump also proposed a federal ban of flavored vaping products.
Arthur said she urges all of her customers to sign petitions against state and federal bans and encourages them to contact their state government officials to share their stories about why they do not want the products banned.
“For us vapers, it is so irritating, because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Arthur. “I just hope they make the right choice.”