TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Despite the spread of vaping-related illnesses, Florida’s top health official told legislators the state isn’t taking dramatic steps at this time to address the issue.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Tuesday the state has had 68 cases of vaping-related illnesses in 21 counties and one confirmed death. Rivkees also told members of the Senate Health Policy Committee that illnesses have been reported in Florida for people from ages 15 to 72, with 8 percent of the cases reported in children under 18.
Meanwhile, the median age of people with the illnesses is 24.5, and most people who have the illnesses --- 69 percent --- are male.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not determined a cause for the illnesses.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, pressed Rivkees on whether Florida should try to stop the outbreak through a moratorium on the sale of vaping products.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public-health emergency in September and banned the sale of vaping products for four months, a move that has been challenged in court.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has shied away from endorsing a similar ban as part of a public-health campaign, noting that the cause of the illnesses has not been determined and that indications point to products that are sold illegally.
Rivkees, who doubles as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, followed his boss’ lead Wednesday.
“There are a number of options for us to consider. This is something that is evolving, and, at the present time, we are still determining what would be the best route,” Rivkees said. “I want to be clear about one thing: We all need to recognize that youth should not vape. And second, that adults need to be made aware of this potentially life-threatening condition associated with vaping. And in terms of what will be the best approach to get those messages out, we are currently working on those.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released information on 849 patients who provided details about the products they were vaping when they got sick. Seventy-eight percent of those patients reported using products that contained THC, and 31 percent reported exclusively vaping THC.
While the federal agency has not identified a source for the outbreak, Rouson pushed Rivkees on the potential connection between the illness and THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the euphoria-causing chemical in marijuana.
“My mama told me that if 10 people walk past you and six or seven say there is a tail growing out of your behind, it makes sense to feel back there,” Rouson said. “So I’m just suggesting if 78 percent of the related illnesses are because there’s presence of THC, then it might not be unfair to draw such a causal connection.”
Rivkees released the details on vaping-related illnesses on the heels of a report that showed increases in the numbers of Florida children who vape.
The results of the 2019 Florida Youth Tobacco survey of 10,844 high-school and middle-school students showed that 16.6 percent reported using electronic-cigarette products in the previous 30 days.
Part of what’s alarming to public health officials is that the survey showed electronic-cigarette use was growing faster among middle-school students than among high-school counterparts.
In 2019, 9.1 percent of middle school students who were surveyed had vaped, compared to 7.8 percent the previous year. By comparison, 25.6 percent of high school students in 2019 reported having used vaping products, compared to 24.8 percent the previous year.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.