A topic of concern raised at Monday's Shawnee City Commission meeting was not on the agenda, but held the attention of many on the board. During the citizen participation portion of the meeting, Chuck Skillings, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee president, took an opportunity to address a recent spike in illness being associated with vaping.

A topic of concern raised at Monday's Shawnee City Commission meeting was not on the agenda, but held the attention of many on the board.

During the citizen participation portion of the meeting, Chuck Skillings, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee president, took an opportunity to address a recent spike in illness being associated with vaping.

“I'm sure you all have heard the media stories with regard to the illnesses and deaths that have been occurring, associated with vaping,” he said. “(From) the email I got this morning, we are at 300 vaping-related illnesses.”

Skillings said it seems like a surprise to everybody, and everybody thought that vaping was going to be less harmful than cigarette smoke.

“I've had an opportunity to spend some time with a pulmonologist (lung specialist),” he said. “Clinically vaping is more dangerous and more harmful than cigarette smoke.”

There are already signs of it, he said.

“My act tonight is to challenge you to enact strong laws that regulate vaping,” Skillings said. “I'm going to challenge this commission and this community to debate things, work with legal counsel, draft ordinances to severely ban access and use to vaping and vaping products in this community.”

Skillings noted several organizations have been investing huge resources to improve the health and wellness of the community.

“Everybody — Avedis, Blue Zones and the hospital, we're all in,” he said. “We can't continue to allow practices that we know are harmful to people in the community.”

Skillings said one of the case reviews he looked up reported dismal findings.

“Imagine a 21-year-old with the lungs of a 60-year-old for the rest of his life,” he said. “Because that's what's happened.”

Skillings said this is an opportunity for the community to step up in the state and send a message that we're going to do something about it.

Some of the commissioners sounded off on the trend, favoring a stand on the issue in the future.

“We've got enough going on out there with the opioids, and all the rest of it we're facing; and this is just one more,” Ward 2 Shawnee City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr. said. “I would like to see something as a statement perhaps from the commission, in some way to offer support for further investigation of this process and seeing what might be possible to hold it down or even try to do away with it.”

Ward 6 Shawnee City Commissioner Ben Salter agreed with Gillham's stance.

“I would like for us to do something, if we can,” he said.

Mayor Richard Finley, addressing vaping and tobacco regulation, said he couldn't agree more with his board and firmly expressed a need to do something about the trend.

They will have to wait and watch what state law pushes forward in a response to the problem. The commission's hands are somewhat tied, as he explained to the gallery that Oklahoma is a pre-emptive state.

“Because of that, we can't do something that state law doesn't allow us to do,” he said. “We've adopted the strongest tobacco policy we can, and I suspect we will follow along with a very strong vaping policy.”

Finley said if he had it in his power to outlaw vaping, he would.

As a former smoker with the bypass scars to show for it, he said, “If I can quit, anybody can quit; people should get off that stuff — it will kill you.”

Watch for updates.