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‘Don’t do it. It’s not safe’ – Local task force formed to take on vaping

MORRISON – The Illinois Department of Public Health’s nine-county Northern Illinois Rockford Region is urging people to stop vaping, and one Whiteside County official is taking up the banner.

Beth Fiorini, public health administrator for Whiteside County Health Department, has set up a task force and plans to launch an aggressive anti-vaping campaign in early November that will include TV commercials, billboards, ads in select publications and literature at high schools, she said Friday.

As of Thursday, the IDPH had identified 137 cases of likely vaping-related respiratory illness statewide, all involving people who had vaped within the preceding 90 days, and one of whom died.

One of those cases was reported in Whiteside County. Lee and Ogle counties, which also are in the Rockford region, have no identified cases, the IDPH said.

Vaping has been promoted as positive alternative to smoking cigarettes, but Fiorini wants to counter that misperception.

She wants to raise awareness about the dangers of vaping, whether it be THC, vape juice or e-cigarettes.

Fiorini “wants to get ahead of the problem,” she said.

“We had one person, then we started thinking we better put something out to get ahead of this,” Fiorini said. “Our message is going to be, ‘It’s not an alternative. Don’t do it, it’s not safe.’”

Some are touting the difference between vaping THC cartridges and vaping as an alternative to smoking. That’s because some black market THC cartridges have been found to contain hydrogen cyanide or vitamin E, which causes something called popcorn lungs.

There’s not enough data yet, though, to determine the long- term effects of vaping as an alternative to smoking, she said, so “it’s not a safer alternative.”

Jeff Orkfritz, at Sinbad Vapors in Dixon, said he doesn’t understand why anyone would turn to the black market to get vape juice.

What you find at a store is fairly priced, about $20 for 4 ounces, you know what you’re getting, and it’s pretty much all organic, Orkfritz said.

“This stuff is all registered with the FDA. It’s propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin flavoring and nicotine,” he said.

He’s been vaping for 4 years, after spending 22 years smoking 1 to 2 packs a day, and he’d probably still be smoking if he didn’t have an alternative, he said.

Still, he doesn’t think it’s a habit that should be picked up just for something to do.

“If you don’t smoke, don’t vape, don’t start,” Orkfritz said.

His doctors did tell him that smoking scarred his lungs, but also told him his lungs have improved, which Orkfritz attributes to vaping.

He doesn’t agree with those who want to ban flavored vape juice because of concerns about marketing vaping to kids.

“I like favors, too,” he said. “I’m an adult, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like candies.

“We don’t market to kids, we don’t sell to kids. We agree with that.”

Fiorini said she’s not advocating people smoke tobacco products, either, but at least you know what you’re getting.

“I’m not saying smoke – I think that’s stupid, too,” she said.

“But do you get cancer when you’re 70, or end up with a lung that won’t work for the rest of your life at 17?”


Anti-vaping advice

The Illinois Department of Public Heath's Northern Illinois Rockford Region, which comprises Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, JoDaviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties, is urging people to stop using e-cigarettes or vaping products.

Its advice:

• Immediately stop using e-cigarettes and vaping products.

• Contact the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 866-784-8937, instead of returning to smoking cigarettes.

• Contact a health provider if you've recently used e-cigarettes or vaping products and think you have symptoms of a respiratory illness.

• Do not buy black market vaping products, including e-cigarettes or vaping products with THC or other cannabinoids.

Use the Safety Reporting Portal to submit detailed reports about unexpected tobacco or e-cigarette health or product issues.

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