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published on November 11, 2019 - 11:51 AM
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A string of incidents and even deaths with ties to vaping devices in the Central Valley have led to discussions on banning them outright.

According to an Oct. 11 report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 1,299 cases of lung injuries associated with vaping in 49 states, the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory.

The report states that these incidents are the result of EVALI, an acronym for “e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury.” Patients afflicted with EVALI usually experience respiratory symptoms. Gastrointestinal issues are also common. Of the reported cases, 26 were fatal, occurring in 21 states. And while CDC data suggests that THC-containing products are the most likely culprits for EVALI, nicotine has not been excluded, as research is ongoing.

Issues in the Valley first surfaced this summer when it was reported that seven residents in Kings County had been placed in intensive care with severe respiratory illnesses. These incidents allegedly arose from using cannabis oil pods from pop-up vendors who were unlicensed.

In September, it was reported by ABC 30 Action News that a raid by the Bureau of Cannabis Control had taken place at the Son of Stuffed Pipe smoke shop in Fresno’s Tower District, resulting in the discovery of 2,000 illegal vape cartridges and 4,000 more being processed. More recently, it was confirmed earlier this month that a resident had died from complications tied to the devices. The victim was reportedly a Kings County citizen.

A week later, on Oct. 14, Hanford City Council voted unanimously (with one member absent) to make all parks within the city not only smoke free — but also vape free. According to Hanford Mayor Sue Sorensen, the city had been mulling the idea of banning smoking in public parks for a few years now. However, the recent incidents regarding vaping have caused them to consider broadening their scope of regulation. As she put it, they hope to eliminate gaps in their policy.

“We’ve become more aware of the consequences and the side effects of vaping and the damage that these young people are doing to their lungs — lifelong damage,” Sorensen said. “So with that in mind, drafting the ordinance made sense.”

Most recently, the Visalia City Council voted 4-1 to discuss a new ordinance on vaping in a future agenda. The Visalia Police Department and local educators have also launched an effort to get flavored tobacco banned in the city. According to The Visalia Times-Delta, this resulted in a presentation on vaping put on by Visalia Unified School District, the California Health Collaborative, police and the Tulare County Office of Education.

The Times-Delta also reported that a recent survey of 3,500 Tulare County students found that 11% of students from fifth to eighth grade had tried vaping. Frank Escobar, director of student services for Visalia Unified, said students concealed their devices by vaping through the drawstrings of their hoodies.

“It’s becoming more prevalent in our schools and there’s been various stories across the country where this kind of activity has had serious health ramifications,” Visalia City Councilmember Greg Collins said over the phone. “There’s also the issue that because it’s flavored, maybe it’s attracting more kids than if it weren’t flavored.”

Recently, the Visalia City Council voted to have further discussion on whether to ban vaping. Collins, who proposed the discussion, said it plays into Visalia’s history on the matter.

“Visalia has had a long history of being somewhat progressive in terms of banning smoking in restaurants and bars, which was done 30 years ago,” he said. “And then subsequently, we do not allow any smoking in our parks, and this would be sort of an extension of that tradition.”

According to Collins, first the City Council intends to discuss whether or not to put the issue on the agenda. If it passes with a 3-2 vote or more, it will move towards a formal action. This, Collins stated, could result in no action taken at all, or even a resolution to ban at least flavored e-cigarette cartridges in Visalia.

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