Citing at least 179 cases of respiratory illness reported in Illinois this year, the village of New Lenox and its Safe Community Coalition, in partnership with Lincoln-Way School District 210, recently hosted a forum to help the public make sense of the vaping epidemic.
It’s an issue that hit home for New Lenox resident Ruby Johnson, one of the featured speakers at the forum.
“Our daughter went from a healthy 18-year-old to a patient fighting for her life,” she said.
Johnson said she learned of her daughter’s health scare when she was recently hospitalized with a vaping-related illness.
After becoming ill, it took several days before Johnson’s daughter admitted to vaping, her mother said.
“I’ll never forget watching her cry that she literally couldn’t breathe without excruciating pain as she was pumped full of IV fluids, antibiotics, steroids, pain meds, anti-nausea meds and diuretic fluid for her badly-inflamed lungs,” she said.
Johnson said it took some time for her daughter’s condition to improve, but she is doing well.
New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann said the forum was meant to provide people with factual information and give everyone an opportunity to be part of the discussion.
“As mayor of this community, it’s important that we have this kind of dialogue,” he said.
Though described as a dialogue, none of the speakers at the forum came out in support of vaping.
Aaron Weiner, a licensed clinical psychologist and the director of addiction services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, called the current discussion around vaping a “moral panic.”
“There’s a lot of different interests that are coming pulling different directions on this, but I think they’re coming from very different places — some of it is well-intentioned, some of it is anecdote and some of it is science,” he said. “I think that knowing the difference between those things is critical.”
Weiner said he thinks he can pinpoint why young people may be drawn to vaping.
“It’s very easy to conceal and be rebellious,” he said. “'It looks cool’ is something that we hear from a lot of young people.”
Alpesh Patel, an epidemiologist for the Will County Health Department, said while his organization is seeing a reduction in the number of new cases of vaping-related illnesses, the health department is still working to get to the bottom of it.
While health concerns about vaping seem to be on the rise, Scott Coveny, who opened Southside Tobacco and Vape this fall in Manhattan, said the concerns are “blown out of proportion."
He said while vaping may have long-term health impacts, it’s still safer than smoking tobacco.
“How hypocritical it is no one’s talking about cigarettes,” Coveny said. “How many people are killed every year? It’s a fact that it does that.”