SPRINGFIELD, Ore.-- As national health officials predict hundreds of new vaping-related illnesses, local vape shop owners are struggling with how they fit into the new picture of health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 500 confirmed and probable cases of lung illnesses and nine deaths nationwide have been attributed to vaping.
Shop owners tell KEZI 9 News that constant headlines about illnesses have had an impact on customers, some of whom have stopped shopping for vaporizer products.
"Misinformation, things like that are really starting to impact people in the negative," said Oregon Vape Society owner Eric Pinnell.
Pinnell and Kickit Vapor salesperson Jeff Armendariz agree that evidence points to black market products and substances consumers add to e-liquids and vaporizer pods are to blame for the illnesses. One substance under investigation by health officials is vitamin E acetate.
"I think they'll find in the end that it has a lot to do with people not knowing what they are doing, just dumping stuff into cartridges and trying to make money and not caring about the consequences," said Armendariz.
Sen. Jeff Merkley joined other lawmakers on Tuesday in introducing a bill that would require the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the design of vaporizers and e-cigarettes to prevent the addition of substances like vitamin E acetate.
Experts agree that unintended additives could be an element in the recent outbreak of illnesses, but they also say vaporizers were cause for concern long before the deaths began.
"The vapors have ultra-fine particulate matter, which is extremely small particles that get into people's lungs, and scientists and health officials simply don't know what kind of long term damage, we just haven't seen that before," said Marc T. Braverman with Oregon State University's School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. "Anyone who says we have a handle on what's causing these deaths is incorrect."
Armendariz and Pinnell also argue that some proposed policies like banning sweet vaporizer liquid flavors or outright vaporizer bans could encourage users to add substances to their e-liquids or even resort to cigarettes.
"I reach out to customers who haven't been in for 3 or 4 weeks. They point-blank tell me that they believe from what they have heard or seen that (vaping) and cigarettes are the same now, and they're just going to go back to cigarettes because at least they know what they'll die of."
Experts dispute this point. Marion Ceraso of OSU's School of Biological and Population Health Sciences told KEZI 9 News that vaporizers are not FDA approved, and approved options exist to address nicotine addiction.
"(Vaporizers are) designed to really quickly deliver nicotine. It's resulted in an increased number of young people using tobacco products that probably never would have started in the first place," she said.
Health officials are asking consumers to avoid vaporizers until more is known about the illnesses. Pinnell and Armendariz both want the illnesses addressed and unsafe products regulated, but hope cooler heads preside.
"It seems like they are siding with, 'I don't know. Just get rid of it,'" Armendariz said.