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The Antelope

Vaping deaths raise concern to Kearney, UNK community

someone smoking a vape pen


Vaping has become a popular alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes since the first device was introduced to the U.S. market in 2007. Despite this, the associated dangers of the use of e-cigarettes are still relatively unexplored and are unclear to many users. 

According to the Center on Addiction, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, known as vapor, produced by an e-cigarette device. While vaping does not produce tobacco smoke like traditional cigarettes, it does consist of fine particles that carry varying amounts of toxic chemicals. 

The liquid used in e-cigarette devices contain nicotine and typically also include flavoring and other additives. Like nicotine in regular cigarettes, nicotine in vapor is also highly addictive.

Besides nicotine, vapor products can contain ultrafine particles that are inhaled deep into the lungs, such as diacetyl (a chemical flavorant linked to serious lung disease), and heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead. 

Vaping has recently come under increased scrutiny as the first confirmed death from the use of e-cigarette products was confirmed in late August by the Center for Disease Control. As of Oct. 24, the CDC has increased the number of people who died from vaping-related illness to 34. 

The CDC and FDA have not announced a particular product as the culprit, but it is considered that illegal cartridges containing THC have been behind many of the deaths. 

NBC News reported the first death in Nebraska as a 65-year-old Douglas County resident at the end of September. His death was investigated following the August outbreak; the man died in May and is part of a chain of discovered cases. 

Because of this widespread fear, the reaction to the dangers of vaping has not escaped Nebraska.

In August, Grand Island City Council members voted unanimously to ban vaping in public places. The law went into effect Sept. 11, and comes with up to a $500 fine. 

Eleven years ago, Grand Island passed an ordinance to prohibit smoking in public places. “The City of Grand Island, when it passed its smoking ban, was ahead of the State of Nebraska passing the statewide ban,” said Chuck Haase, Grand Island city council member Ward 5. “A year later, the State of Nebraska issued a statewide ban.”

The new ordinance amended Chapter 39 of the City Code to place vaping and e-cigarette products in the same ban as tobacco smoking. Again, Grand Island is taking the initiative to protect Nebraskans before the state. 

“We need to update [the code] and be leaders in the community for the health of our citizens,” Haase said. 

The city of Kearney is also investigating a move to enact a ban. Mayor of Kearney, Stan Clouse, called on city staff to study whether vaping constitutes a public health crisis in Kearney. 

Clouse, a proponent of small government, is cautious of implementing restrictions but shares the concern of the health effects vaping carries. Clouse pointed toward Grand Island’s ban as a model for city staff to begin their research. 

So far, the city has only made it unlawful for persons under the age of 18 to possess or use vapor products, electronic cigarettes, or alternative nicotine products. This change occurred in April in response to changes in state law. 

Kearney Public Schools has also banned vaping devices on school property. The University of Nebraska at Kearney prohibits the use of all forms of tobacco and vaping products on university property except in the designated smoking zones in parking lots. The university included this provision in the Fire Policy for On-Campus Student Housing Facilities in the 2019 Annual Campus Security and Fire Report. The Student Code of Conduct does not specifically outline vaping, but does have authority to issue disciplinary sanctions for “smoking in any University facility or vehicle.”

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