Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order Tuesday, calling for a coalition of state government departments to create and launch a campaign aimed at reducing youth vaping.
Parson noted at a news conference in his Jefferson City office that young people's use of e-cigarette products has increased alarmingly over the past five years.
"People across the country are being hospitalized with life-threatening symptoms linked to vaping," he said. "The use of vaping devices among high school students increased by nearly 80 percent from 2017 to 2018."
The number of confirmed (or probable) cases of pulmonary disease brought on by use of e-cigarettes in Missouri has risen to 23, but still only one death has been attributed to the condition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, as of Oct. 8, 1,299 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products have been reported. Twenty-six deaths are confirmed in 21 states.
The majority of the cases involved people ages 15-24, despite laws intended to prevent youth use of tobacco products.
CDC data show in probable and confirmed cases, symptoms have progressed to a point where doctors ordered X-rays. Those X-rays found "pulmonary infiltrate," which is pus, blood or protein in the lungs, usually associated with phenomena, tuberculosis and nocardosis (a bacterial infection).
Parson's order directs the departments of Health and Senior Services, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Safety to use existing resources to develop a statewide campaign to educate and warn people of the dangers of youth vaping and to deter the use all together.
In Missouri, the percentage of middle and high school students who have used vaping devices has increased from 19 percent in 2014 to nearly 27 percent in 2018, Parson said.
"This is truly an epidemic, and we must take action to protect the young people in our state," Parson continued. "Flavored nicotine products and targeted marketing have made vaping more appealing to young people."
The governor's campaign is to counter marketing directed at youth.
The state is also drafting letters to send to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Senior Services to support their efforts to address the problem.
"We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to be sure they are educated from a young age about the potential consequences of their decisions," Parson said. "And we must take action now to protect their health and well-being."
Missouri House of Representatives Minority Leader Crystal Quade on Tuesday sent out a statement critical of Parson's "belated" reaction to the health threat created by vaping and of his support for laws shielding e-cigarette industry from state regulation while he was a member of the Legislature.
"As a senator five years ago, Mike Parson voted to override a gubernatorial veto to prohibit vaping products from being taxed or regulated as tobacco products under Missouri law," she wrote. "That vote to protect vaping industry profits has not aged well, and it is encouraging Gov. Parson now recognizes the significant threat to public health vaping poses."
The place to begin addressing the crisis would be to repeal the legal protections the industry now enjoys, she wrote.
During the news conference, Parson called on the upcoming General Assembly to study the issue and put together packages to address it.
The first day of the next session is Jan. 9.
DHSS Director Randall Williams said at the news conference that although vaping has been around for about a dozen years, there has been an epidemic of its use in recent years.
"There has been an explosion of youth who are vaping," Williams said. "The actions the governor is taking today will lead to a coordinated effort to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent any young people from starting vaping."
The name of the campaign is "Clear the Air: The Risks of Youth Vaping," Williams said.
At least 20 percent of young adults who vape say they don't think e-cigarettes are harmful. They think it's a lesser risk than cigarettes.
"For the developing teenager, we do not think that is true," Williams said. "We do not want teenagers to vape. We do not want pregnant women to vape."