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Health leaders, lawmakers discuss concerns over vaping

The Metro Drug Coalition shared recommendations with lawmakers at its ninth annual legislative luncheon.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As the number of vaping-related lung illnesses continues to rise, local health officials are urging state lawmakers to take action.

As of Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control said there have been 2,290 cases of vaping-related lung injuries in every state except Alaska.

That includes 70 confirmed illnesses tied to vaping in Tennessee, as well as two deaths.

"We're really concerned about the rates of use among our young people in particular," Metro Drug Coalition executive director Karen Pershing said.

New data from the American Medical Association shows that in the last two years, the number of high school seniors who have vaped rose by 131 percent. 

A quarter of them have vaped in the last month. 

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"We would like to see more of an emphasis on possibly increasing the legal purchase age to 21," Pershing said. "We'd like to see a ban on flavored tobacco products as well, because those are appealing to young people."

Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton cautioned he does not want to pass legislation too quickly.

"It's one of those things where we need to look at the data, look at the research, and talk to people in the medical community and then make a decision on which direction we want to go," Sexton said.

Sexton said lawmakers have started drafting bills that tackle different aspects of the vaping crisis. State senator Richard Briggs on Knoxville has one proposal.

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"I have a bill in the state legislature that will require physicians and other healthcare providers to file a report with the state when they do see a vaping related illness," Briggs said. "This way it can be forwarded to the CDC in Atlanta so we can really determine the extent of the problem with vaping."

Sexton said some lawmakers are drafting bills that could raise the minimum age required to purchase e-cigarette or vaping products.

"There's a push right now to try to move the age up to 21," he said. "We'll see how that looks when they when they have that drafted."