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This editorial appeared in the Sept. 6, 2019, edition of the Chicago Sun-Times:

The health hazards of vaping are becoming more evident by the day, and Illinois officials must take steps to curb the risk.

Indiana health officials on Friday reported the nation's third death from a severe, mysterious vaping-related lung illness. Hours later, Minnesota confirmed a fourth vaping-related death, and Los Angeles officials said they suspect vaping as a "probable cause" in a fifth death.

Also on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control reported that as many as 450 cases of serious lung disease have been linked to e-cigarette use — more than double the number of cases the agency reported in late August.

The CDC is urging people not to use e-cigarettes at all while they investigate the exact cause of the illnesses, some of which have been linked to counterfeit devices containing THC — the active chemical that creates the "high" from marijuana — or a Vitamin E contaminant.

As Illinois State Rep. Julie Morrison told us, "You'd have to be living under a rock not to realize the health risk we're seeing."

Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield, plans to introduce legislation in the fall veto session to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted a similar ban just days ago.

We support the proposal. As we see more and more evidence of the potential deadly risk involved, it's a smart, necessary move to protect our kids.

E-cigarettes are covered under the state's new ban on selling tobacco products to anyone under 21.

Yet "young people who are not even old enough to be buying these products tell me how it easy it is to buy them online or in a convenience store," Morrison said. "Flavors are one of the main components that bring kids into (vaping). They think it's the latest cool thing."

A ban wouldn't infringe on the rights of adults who are willing to accept the risks, since non-flavored devices still would be available.

Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has the e-cigarette industry in his crosshairs too. His office is aggressively investigating the industry for engaging in marketing practices that appear aimed squarely at teens.

"The evidence increasingly shows that vape products, especially when combined with THC, are extremely harmful," Raoul said in a statement. "I encourage the General Assembly to explore this issue, particularly flavored products that seem to be aimed at children and young people."

In Illinois, the state Department of Public Health is now investigating 42 cases of vaping-related illness, up from 22 cases in late August. Those cases include two teenagers, from Gurnee and New Lenox, who were hospitalized with lung problems after using e-cigarettes. Both said they first started vaping with fruit-flavored devices.

The CDC believes a chemical is causing the illnesses, but it still hasn't identified a specific chemical or product common to all the cases.

"Although more investigation is needed to determine the vaping agent or agents responsible, there is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response," Dr. David C. Christiani of Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote in a Sept. 6 New England Journal of Medicine editorial. "E-cigarette fluids have been shown to contain at least six groups of potentially toxic compounds."

The public is likely to hear industry officials continue to insist that their products are safe, and blame counterfeit street products laced with THC.

But remember this: the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year began investigating 127 cases of seizures or other neurological problems related to vaping. As the FDA points out, seizures or convulsions are "known potential side effects of nicotine toxicity."

If these products truly are safe and effective aids for smokers who want to quit, the industry should consider dropping its lawsuit against the FDA's May 2020 deadline for e-cigarette makers to submit their products for approval.

Let the FDA investigate and settle the matter.

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