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Missouri Begins Youth Vaping Campaign, Governor Won't Restrict Products

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Monday announced the launch of the state’s new youth vaping education campaign to bring attention to the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping products. 

Parson signed an executive order in October giving the departments of Health and Senior Services, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Public Safety one month to get the program running without any additional funding. 

The Clear the Air Campaign will use various forms of social media to reach teens about the dangers of vaping and dispel myths that it is healthier than using cigarettes. 

“As we go forward, we’re trying to change a trajectory,” said Randall Williams, director of Health and Senior Services. “We know that the rate of youth vaping has doubled in the last two years, and that’s true for Missouri as well. Also, we’re sensitive to the fact that Missouri reported its second death last week.” 

In addition to the two deaths associated with vaping-related illnesses, 35 people have been sickened. Of those patients, 22 are between the ages of 15 and 22. 

As vaping-related illness sweep across the country, governors of various states have banned some vaping products, but Parson said he thought that might be premature. 

“The simple thing we know is that it’s a problem. And what we’re really trying to do with the executive order is, from the governor’s office and the directors, is trying to get out in front of a problem that could explode on us.” 

Parson did not support a ban on just the flavored products, which often are more enticing to youth. He also would not commit to higher taxes on the products. 

“I don’t know that pricing it out of somebody’s reach is always the right answer,” Parson said. 

Vaping and tobacco companies are different, but big tobacco industries are cashing in on vaping. Not only are they buying up the e-cigarette companies, but roughly 31% of teens who use e-cigarettes begin smoking within just six months, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

In 2018, a PAC benefiting Parson’s campaign for governor received roughly $50,000 from two tobacco companies — Cheyenne International of Grover, North Carolina, and Xcaliber International of Pryor, Oklahoma. 

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Missouri has $3 million in annual health care costs directly caused by smoking. And the number of Missouri high school students who smoke is nearly double the national average. 

The campaign will also focus on enforcement efforts to ensure retailers are not selling tobacco or vaping products to minors. 

“Our enforcement operations show that across Missouri, 83% of retailers are checking IDs and refusing sales to those who are under age 18,” said Dottie Taylor, state supervisor of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.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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