Vaping town hall expresses concern for effects on local youth

GENESEE COUNTY — A panel of local health experts and two county commissioners, Brenda Clack (District 2) and Ellen Ellenburg (District 3), took part in a community town hall last week, the focus of which was the concern over the rise in vaping among youth in the county, in light of several reported deaths and illnesses across the country.

Although health official admit they don’t know the exact cause of the reported cases, they say they seem to be related to the vaping of products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, as well as nicotine. A bulletin from the state was issued Friday, stating in part, “Although the cause of the lung injuries is not yet known, the majority of lung injury patients report using products with THC.” The complete bulletin is available at: www.michigan. gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339- 73970_ 71692-510935–,00. html

Experts such as Dr. Laura Carravallah of the Genesee County Medical Society, Dr. John McKellar of the Genesee County Health Department, Lisa Fockler of the Genesee County Prevention Coalition, and Judy Fridline of the Genesee Intermediate School District, took aim at what resources are currently available to help bring awareness to youth, parents, educators and others who work with young people.

Kay Doerr of the Genesee County Board of Health served as moderator and was one of the experts who called the rise of vaping “frightening” and an “epidemic”. She said no one has all the answers but indicated evidence from the medical community regarding nicotine is clear in its dangers and that awareness is a key issue.

Dr. McKellar echoed the medical concerns saying the potential for lung injury should be a primary consideration to youth and anyone who is considering vaping for any reason; adding that children should not use nicotine at all. He said warning symptoms of the illness are shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough and anyone experiencing these should seek immediate medical attention.

Dr. Carravallah said statistics indicate 40 percent of youth vapers have never smoked before and she is further concerned about the lack of regulation on the liquids used for vaping. Although the State of Michigan did enact a ban on the sale of liquids earlier this year, it was recently overturned by a court decision. Additionally, liquids are available on-line and users can even create their own, she said.

It’s a fast-changing industry Carravallah indicated and said they know some of the liquids contain heavy metals such as tin, nickel and lead, and at least one of the flavorings can cause a condition known as “popcorn lung”, which is irreversible damage.

She added it’s true they don’t know the exact cause but said some who have become ill have had their lungs fill with fluid.

“It’s a mystery. We don’t know what causes it,” Carravallah explained. She also said kids may not even know there is nicotine in some of these products and recommended anyone who is using vaping to quit smoking, to consider alternate forms of help such as the nicotine patch or smoking cessation classes.

Fockler indicated although vaping touts itself as ‘safer’ than smoking, smoking is not safe at all. She also explained the marketing of the flavored liquids is very similar to the ‘playbook’ used for years by the tobacco industry and she feels it is purveying misconceptions about the safety of those products—establishing a ‘norm’ which reduces the perception of risk.

Fridline indicated local schools are updating their policies to keep up with the trend and also have on hand resources which can help schools and other agencies teach about the dangers of vaping for youth.

Anyone who wishes more information can contact the Genesee County Health Department at 810-257-3612 (, or the Genesee County Prevention Coalition at 810-285-9047 ( The Michigan Tobacco Quitline can be reached at 800-764-8669. Additionally, you can view articles entitled “LEGAL does not mean okay” and “WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VAPING” at: genesee_ sept2019_ issuu.