CHICAGO — As Illinois lawmakers held a hearing titled "Addressing the Vaping Crisis" in the Blandic Building downtown Monday, about 100 adult e-cigarette users gathered outside to protest a proposed ban on flavored vaping products.
Those who vape say the recent deaths and lung-related issues doctors believe stem from vaping are being unfairly lumped in with the issue of flavored vaping products and the increase in kids who use them.
"I would have never been able to quit smoking without it," Carol Zelewsky said.
Lawmakers are considering a ban on most flavored vaping products over questions about their safety and their allure to middle and high school aged kids.
“This has become an epidemic," Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) said during the hearing.
New numbers released by the Illinois Department of Public Health find of 69 people with vaping-related lung illnesses, more than 75 percent have been linked to vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. Most THC vaping devices are sold on the black market.
Users and industry representatives like Victoria Vasconcellos, Smoke Free Alternatives Coaltion of Illinois, say those numbers are proof the issue of vaping-related illness is being unfairly lumped in with an increase in kids using flavored vaping products.
"45 million vapers in the world, it’s happening nowhere except for here so I think it’s pretty reasonable to say that something new has entered the market," Vasconcellos said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says over 500 people throughout the country have been diagnosed with vaping-related breathing illnesses; eight have died, including one in Illinois.
Vaping industry officials say their products are not the problem, pointing out they have been on the market for 10 years and are regulated by the FDA, which they say hasn’t allowed them to change their formulations. Rather, they say black market THC cartridges are the issue.
"They are different products, we don’t sell black market THC products in vape shops, so banning all flavors and putting us out of business will do nothing for black market drugs," Vasconcellos said.
While they agree their products are not for young people and their access should be restricted, they fear a ban on flavored products could hurt the $1.1 billion industry that employs over 7,000 people and brings in over a billion dollars in taxes.
"Banning flavors isn't going to solve this program, in fact it’s going to lead to more adults smokers," said Tony Abboud, Vapor Technology Association.
The vaping industry says lawmakers should look more at the way the products are marketed and sold, especially online, as a way to prevent teens for getting them.
Testifying Monday, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he fully supports banning flavored vaping products, saying it needed to be done in a way that would not grow the black market, which the vaping industry blames lung-related health issues and deaths.