HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Health officials confirm a seventh person has died from a severe lung illness linked to vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now reporting at least 380 confirmed and probable vape-related illnesses, including in South Carolina.
As of Wednesday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says there have been three confirmed cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping and is currently investigating a total of eight cases. Recently, researchers with the Food and Drug Administration, along with President Donald Trump, proposed a ban on flavored e-cigarettes following the reports of multiple deaths the CDC linked to e-cigarette use throughout the country.
As a response, some local vape stores in the Grand Strand have closed, while others are pushing back. The CDC says investigators are working to pinpoint the culprit of the lung-illnesses stating no single vaping device, liquid or ingredient has been tied to all the illnesses.
Scott Keefe, the manager at Zuluvape in Myrtle Beach, says switching to e-cigarettes helped him stop smoking paper cigarettes. Keefe says he’s been vaping for 8 years now. He says to make sure every product in the store is up to standard codes, they only deal with reputable U.S. companies and test each product before it hits the shelves. Keefe’s worried how the ban on flavored products would affect the majority of customers who have successfully quit cigarettes through vaping.
“It’s nothing like smoking a cigarette and a lot of people that come through here, they want something that’s going to be like a cigarette. We can’t offer that. Our point is to get away from cigarettes. We even recommend for people to actually get away from the tobacco flavors," said Keefe.
Keefe stresses the importance of not introducing vaping to those who haven’t had an experience with smoking, especially minors.
“As far as I know, majority of the people that we have coming through here have smoked in the past. I actually I know for a fact we have people that have come through here that have told us, I don’t smoke, I don’t do anything. And most of the time, I’ll look at them and tell them you’re wasting your money," said Keefe.
Doctors say many of those affected with illnesses, but not all, say they vaped THC, the ingredient that causes a high in marijuana. Keefe points out those THC cartridges are largely unregulated.
Zuluvape says the billion-dollar vaping industry is made up of about 14,000 vapor companies and 12,000 retail shops and says there would be about 160,000 jobs lost if this flavor ban takes effect.
“If the flavor ban is actually put into effect, it will shut down this industry for the most part. I’m not going to say this industry is going to be 100% dead because you do have people that use tobacco flavors. Some people will suck it up and use them, but for the most part any vape shop is not really going to be able to survive off of just selling tobacco flavors," said Keefe.
Conway Medical Center says so far, the hospital has had no definite cases of vaping-related illnesses.
“Our physicians and providers, including our pulmonologists, continue to monitor incoming patients for signs of these illnesses as reported in other areas,” a CMC spokesperson said.
Grand Strand Medical Center released a statement to WMBF News saying: "Grand Strand Medical Center has treated 4 to 5 probable or confirmed cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with e-cigarette use, as defined by the CDC."
Doctors also say the health risks of vaping could be better addressed if the FDA began properly regulating these products.
South Carolina Poison Control tells WMBF News as of Tuesday, there’s been 94 cases of e-cigarette product exposure so far this year, and more than half are children six and under.
Sen. Stephen Goldfinch says he believes we have to do anything and everything to keep vaping out of children’s hands. But when it comes down to restricting the use for adults, he feels more solid research needs to be done before making any decisions.