ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers scrambled to draft regulations following the state's first vaping-related death.
State Reps. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, and Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, announced Thursday their intent to introduce legislation during the 2020 legislative session to tackle vaping and e-cigarette use in Georgia.
Last week, the Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed the state's first vaping-related death along with nine other cases of hospitalization linked to e-cigarette use — other possible cases are under review. The person who died in Georgia had a history of “heavy nicotine vaping,” according to the department, but did not report a history of vaping other substances, such as THC.
The nine other patients developed pneumonia with “no known infectious cause.” Those sickened range from 18 to 68 in age and seven are men.
“It has become increasingly clear that vaping and e-cigarette use has become a major public health concern that we must address here in Georgia,” Greene said in a statement.. “I hope that by taking legislative action next session, we can prevent future vaping-related illnesses and deaths in our state.”
The issue extends nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based in Atlanta, reported there are more than 800 cases of lung illness due to vaping and e-cigarettes in 46 states — 12 deaths have been confirmed in 10 states.
As a parent, Rich said, she has addressed the problem alongside school officials.
“Now, as a legislator, I have the ability to do more. During this offseason, I called a meeting among the stakeholders in House District 97, including the Gwinnett County district attorney, solicitor general, sheriff’s department, Juvenile Court, state court and Superior Court, to discuss this problem,” Rich said in a statement. “I thereafter began working on a bill that I intend to introduce in the upcoming legislative session that will protect not only our children, but all Georgians from this growing epidemic, which has already resulted in one death in our state.”
Gov. Brian Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state’s Department of Public Health, have urged Georgia residents to follow the CDC recommendation not to use vapes and e-cigarettes. On Wednesday, Kemp tweeted that he met with Toomey “to provide an update on our work to gather data and conduct research on the challenges posed by adolescent vaping in Georgia.”
Symptoms of vaping-caused illness — which worsen over time — include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Department of Public Health.
Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.