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Health leaders point to targeted marketing for rise in Kentucky teens vaping

Ben Chandler showed WKYT's Miranda Combs a sweatshirt with a drawstring that doubles as a...
Ben Chandler showed WKYT's Miranda Combs a sweatshirt with a drawstring that doubles as a vaping device. He says this type of marketing is obviously for young people. (WKYT)(WKYT)
Published: Dec. 12, 2019 at 5:51 PM EST
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At least 2,409 people have been hospitalized for the same vaping-related illnesses, according to the CDC. Between 10 and 49 cases have been reported in Kentucky.

Of all the cases, the CDC says 54 percent involve someone 24 years old or younger.

“There’s not a question in my mind they’ve targeted young people,” said Ben Chandler, who runs Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "All you have to do is look at the numbers. Only three percent of the adult population use vaping products. Over 27 percent of high school students use vaping products."

Chandler laid out items that he says speak to his point: a sweatshirt with a drawstring that's a vaping device, and a watch with a removable face that also doubled as a vaping device.

"Now, why would they do that if they weren't trying to hide what they were doing?" asked Chandler.

Chandler is pushing for taxes placed on vapes and moving up the age to purchase them to 21.

"The problem is it's kind of gone off in its own little cult favorite," explained Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room doctor in Lexington. "It's a thing that kids are using because they think it's cool."

Dr. Stanton said vaping is supposed to be for people to use to wean off cigarettes. They are not meant for people to start using nicotine when they never smoked in the first place.

"This is a transition item, and we have to stress the importance of that. Just because it smells good doesn't mean it's good for you," said Dr. Stanton.

The CDC is still trying to figure out what's in the devices that's making so many people sick. They say patients reported 152 different THC-containing products, and have found vitamin E acetate associated with some lung injuries. Overall, the CDC says they are investigating many products and substances and believe there may be more than one cause.

"You never know when you take a chemical by itself sitting there; it's not dangerous. But you take that chemical, put it with other stuff, and then you heat it and expose it to the lungs, which the lungs are very sensitive, you have the potential for significant damage," said Dr. Stanton.

"What frightens me the most is that we were seeing a steady decline in the use of tobacco products and use of nicotine until these products came along. And now, what we're seen are young people who would otherwise not use tobacco products use these products and become addicted."

"What frightens me the most is that we were seeing a steady decline in the use of tobacco products and use of nicotine until these products came along," said Chandler. "And now, what we're seen are young people who would otherwise not use tobacco products use these products and become addicted."

Chandler is hopeful the support for taxing vaping is there and said it's a shared concern across Kentucky and the country.