Residents have taken to Facebook, sharing their thoughts after a trend in vaping-related illnesses and deaths was addressed at a recent Shawnee City Commission meeting.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: RESPONSES FROM FACEBOOK ARE OPINIONS AND HAVE BEEN LEFT EXACTLY AS THEY WERE POSTED — TYPOS, MISSING WORDS AND ALL — TO PRESERVE ACCURACY.]

Residents have taken to Facebook, sharing their thoughts after a trend in vaping-related illnesses and deaths was addressed at a recent Shawnee City Commission meeting.

SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee President Chuck Skillings made it clear he hopes the city will take a firm stand against vaping after a recent spike in illness is being associated with it.

Many Facebook shares and posts from residents have been divided in what is believed to be the cause behind the trend — whether it be strictly black-market items, illegal THC content or vaping products as a whole. Others state the issue is not whether it's good or bad, but it's a matter of maintaining the freedom to choose.

Why now?

Robby Rogers said, “It’s been around for along time now hasn’t been a problem, and their already taking actions? This all got started two months ago, and not one case of illness has pop up yet in Oklahoma.”

Illegal access

Several residents attribute the recent vaping illnesses and deaths with illegally-obtained vaping products.

Autumn Nicole Day said, “It's illegal THC Cartridges that's harming people! Not vaping!”

Starr Ewing said, “i agree if they want to cause and up roar suddenly because some people dont know not to buy things illegally off the streets and like 6 people across the USA have died why are they not causing an up roar over the 1000s that have died from cigarette related deaths take care of the bigger problem first right

Rachael Martin said, “They do realize this illness is coming from illegal black market THC vape cartridges? Sounds like they need to do their research.”

Hadly Conley said, “Except it’s not legal vaping that is harming people.

It is illegal THC cartridges that are cut with Vitamin E Acetate being bought off the streets.

There is zero evidence that vaping is harmful. Of course the hospital stands behind banning vaping, they’re losing money!

The vape industry is very heavily regulated and we actually care about improving public health by getting people off cigarettes!”

Michael Schwab responded to Conley's post, saying, “except there are not illegal, well not all of them are illegal and certainly not illegal in Oklahoma, since MJ (marijuana) is legal here not really a need to buy them off the streets. There has been no conclusive evidence suggesting THC cartridge are the problem, all though most case have involved them not all have.”

Schwab also cited the CDC, saying, “the CDC cautions that health experts do not yet know the cause of these illnesses and have not isolated a single e-cigarette product as the underlying culprit. The agency said there has been no evidence of a common infectious cause, and therefore they suspect that a form of chemical exposure has made the patients ill.”

Schwab added another attribution to back his opinion, “as a new paper published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine shows, the FDA has done a poor and inconsistent job protecting the public from new tobacco products in the first place. 'It’s really demonstrating a regulatory failure,' says Sven Jordt, an e-cigarette researcher at Duke who authored the paper.”

Schwab directed his response again, to Conley, saying, “So the CDC would disagree with your prognosis.

That being said, again I say, take all the warning labels off and let nature go to work.”

Conley fired back with, “Federal and state investigators said last week one of the most common threads in reported cases of the 'severe pulmonary disease' was street-purchased tetrahydrocannabinol or THC oil from marijuana that contained vitamin E acetate.

Also, these carts ARE illegal because they are not coming from dispensaries. They are coming from the local weed man cutting the product with a chemical that is not water soluble. Selling any thc products without being a licensed retailer is illegal, which makes the product illegal ?

The vapor industry is heavily regulated already. How, after over a decade of vaping, have there been zero deaths or suspicions/concerns before now? MAYBE because big tobacco is losing money which means the states are losing money, and hospitals and cancer associations.

It might not mean anything to you but a lot of families depend on this industry, mine being one of them. We won’t just lay down and let big tobacco take over our industry with a smear campaign when we have saved hundreds of thousands of people quit cigarettes and get their health back.”

Lorisha Dawn Gilliam chimed in, saying, “Don't be spreading facts around the media doesn't like facts ya know!”

In response to Conley, Schwab added, “yes because being worried about one automatically makes you not worried about the other. Some great logic we are passing around......(in case you didn’t catch the sarcasm, these aren’t mutually exclusive problems).

But hey, I’m of the mindset that if people want to ruin their lives, then let em. Take off all the warming labels and let nature go to work for us.”

Free to choose

Many expressed more of a concern about allowing people make up their own minds about what they consume.

Stacey Elmore Trout said, “I think it's my choice and every other person who is old enough to buy tobacco. I dont see them banning cigarettes because its causes cancer and second hand smoke causes cancer to. So I think banning vapors violates my constitutional rights. If I want to vape then I should be able to have the option to do so, including purchasing a vapor and vapor juice!”

Manda Robes said, “Let people be held accountable for their own choices!”

Donna Carpenter said, “Dont believe it is any of the City Of Shawnees business

Chuck Skillings also fought Medical Marijuana on the Health Dept Board

Why let nature heal them when St Anthony can charge them”

Patricia Kane said, “I had a doctor an Oklahoma Heart Hospital tell my husband that vaping is a hundred times worse than actually smoking a cigarette she is a big-time smoker anytime he hits a vape he ends up with pneumonia I don't smoke so I can't say yes or no about what happens or what don't happen or what they feel or they don't feel or why they need it or why they don't need it I just seen many times that someone that uses a vape Enzo putting more fluid into their lungs than anything else and then ends up with congestive heart failure or COPD or pneumonia or any of that this is just my opinion I don't like smoking and I don't like vaping so I would prefer the air to be cleaner but again I can't make choices for other people”

Bigger problems

Rory Benton suggested there were deeper concerns in the community to focus on, saying, “Why don’t you work on getting the meth out of town first!!!”

Skillings' report

From an email Skillings received mid-September, “we were at 300 vaping-related illnesses,” he said.

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.

Skillings encouraged Shawnee leaders to enact strong laws to regulate vaping.

“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,” he said.

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.

He 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.”

Commissioner comments

Some of the commissioners chose to make remarks 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 took a similar 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.