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To Discourage Vaping Among Youth, Missouri Gov. Parson Mandates Education Campaign

Calling vaping-related illnesses among Missouri’s youth an epidemic, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday signed an executive order mandating education to discourage usage. 

Thousands have been sickened across the country due to vaping-related illnesses. In Missouri, there have been 22 reported illnesses and one death as of Oct. 4. The majority of those cases involve people between the ages of 15 and 24. 

Parson did not call for a ban on any products, but wants more research.

“The biggest fear we have is the unknown of the products,” he said. “I don’t think anybody knows. I don’t know how much research has been done on the flavored side of it to know how much of a health risk it is.” 

The order directs the departments of Health and Senior Services, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Safety to develop a statewide campaign to educate and warn youth about the dangers of vaping. The campaign is to use existing resources and launch within 30 days. 

Parson called this a “first step,” something he could do within the powers of governor. But, he said the Legislature will likely take up the issue during its next session beginning in January. 

One obstacle could be a strong lobbying presence that might make it difficult to sway lawmakers to move on the issue. Parson did not seem concerned. 

“Their job’s not to listen to the lobbyists every day to do what the lobbyists want,” he said. “The second thing I would say to legislators is, take a good look at it, and again, what is the safety of our children in this state? And that should be a priority.”

Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said vaping poses a risk to important parts of the brain that affect attention, learning and mood. She said schools need to try to get ahead of this problem. 

“E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes and in flavors that appeal to our youth,” she said. “It’s important that school staff be adequately trained to spot and adequately supported to stop this behavior in our underage populations.” 

The Missouri Democratic Party was quick to criticize Parson and what it called “a history of ignoring the needs of Missouri’s children through repeated inaction.” 

Democrats have called for Parson to address thousands of children getting kicked off Medicaid and the spike in urban gun violence, which has included children being killed.

Parson has rolled out an anti-violence plan for St. Louis with Mayor Lyda Krewson. The plan includes an increase in state police patrols. He is also holding a closed-door meeting with the mayors of Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia on Friday to discuss violence in their cities. Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.
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