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Vaping deaths: Bill Lee says clearer picture needed before state acts

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In the wake of two Tennesseans dying in recent weeks from vaping-related lung illnesses, Gov. Bill Lee said last week he wants to see a clearer picture of the problem before having the state take action.

“There’s not a clear understanding about exactly what is causing the deaths,” the governor said at an event in Nashville on Friday.

As of Thursday, there have been 57 cases of lung illness linked to vaping or e-cigarette use in Tennessee, including the two deaths. The current outbreak has resulted in more than 1,600 illnesses and 34 deaths around the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the outbreak appears more severe in Tennessee than in many other states. Tennessee is one of only nine states with two confirmed deaths and in the top 13 for total cases reported, according to state and CDC data.

Lee noted the recent deaths have come well after vaping became prominent.

“The CDC and other states are very interested in figuring out just what is causing the deaths,” he said. “We are, too.”

Lee said he was “not prepared” to take a first step on the issue, beyond further research and understanding.

States take emergency action

His comments come after several states have taken emergency action in response to the outbreak. Massachusetts, whose governor has declared a public health emergency, has temporarily stopped the sale of vaping products. Michigan, New York, Oregon and Washington have outright banned the sale of flavoured vaping products.

During a recent Senate Republican caucus meeting, Sens. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, and Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said they anticipate vaping being an issue for lawmakers to address in the upcoming legislative session.

Crowe, who presides over the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said he is expecting to see legislation introduced related to taxation, bans on e-cigarette flavours and age restrictions. He noted the state Department of Health “will be into that,” suggesting the agency will be making recommendations.

Shelley Walker, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in a statement Monday,

“The Tennessee Department of Health is not working on anti-vaping legislation at this time, but looks forward to having those conversations in the future.”

Sourced  from: www.tennessean.com

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