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Vaping industry under increased scrutiny

CHESAPEAKE, Ohio — As the number of vaping-related illnesses across the country continues to climb, local, state and federal leaders are evaluating what steps should be taken to address the issue.

On a national level, the Trump administration has said it will propose a federal ban on flavored electronic cigarettes because they are being used by underage teenagers and other minors, while retailers like Walmart plan to stop selling e-cigarettes when they sell out their current inventory.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine is researching whether he has the authority to ban liquid flavors used in e-cigarettes as a way to battle against children vaping.

The concerns are also being discussed locally, with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department board set to address vaping when members meet this week.

Melissa Goodwin, who owns District 4 Vapor in Chesapeake, Ohio, and another location in Ashland, is among those concerned from a business standpoint.

She said a proposed ban on flavored vaping liquids would be devastating to vape businesses across the country.

"We are a family-owned and-operated business, and all of this misinformation out there is already negatively impacting us," Goodwin said. "Vaping has been around for a decade, and now they are talking about bans when these concerns don't have anything to do with legal vaping businesses that carry quality products that have been tested and registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

Vaping has come under increased scrutiny following the outbreak of some vaping-related deaths caused by mysterious lung illnesses. The eight deaths have been confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Oregon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FDA, state and local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners are investigating the multistate outbreak of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product devices, liquids, refill pods and cartridge use. Researchers are looking into at least 530 cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarettes in 36 states, including West Virginia, Ohio and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the CDC said in its most recent report last week.

"Until we know more, if you are concerned about these specific health risks, CDC recommends that you consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products," the agency said in its recommendations.

Goodwin says people deserve to know the truth, which is that the CDC has said most patients allegedly sick from vaping have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, also possibly with vitamin E oil.

"There should be no vitamin E oil and THC in e-liquids," according to Goodwin. "That is what is getting people sick. It's not due to flavored vaping products, and I think it's important that everyone knows it."

Goodwin says she gets calls daily from customers concerned about vaping, and many of them have told her they might go back to smoking cigarettes with traditional tobacco, which kills 480,000 Americans each year.

"I understand their concerns because of all this misinformation out there now, but it has already been shown that vaping is 95% safer than smoking cigarettes. That kills almost a half-million people a year. That's an epidemic," she said. "A ban would not only turn many adults back to smoking traditional cigarettes again, but it would also create a huge criminal black market for the flavored e-liquids with both adults and minors."

Statistics show that in 2017-18, e-cigarette use in the U.S. increased by 78% — from 11.7% to 20.8% — among middle and high school students.

Goodwin said a ban would not change those figures and would only hurt adults who are looking for a healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes.

"About 90% of our customers, whom are all adults, want flavored e-liquids and tell us that it makes it easier to transition from traditional tobacco cigarettes," she said. "They then start to cut back on the nicotine strength until they can totally quit."

Goodwin says her vape shops offer over 200 flavors of e-liquids.

Joey Pratt, of Chesapeake, said he is trying to quit smoking and doesn't want tobacco-flavored vape liquid.

"Most people who want to quit smoking don't want to have tobacco-flavored products," he said. "It has been a lot easier to quit smoking cigarettes because I enjoy the flavors. These proposed bans are not taking into consideration that legal vaping products are helping many adults to be able to stop smoking. It's working for me and I am sure it's working for others. I have been doing it for nearly a year now, and I don't have any illnesses from it."

Public health officials in Ohio have confirmed three reports of severe pulmonary illness that are likely due to some form of vaping and are investigating an additional 11 reports of illness. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) issued an alert to health care providers Aug. 23 asking them to report all suspected cases of serious pulmonary illness where the cause is unclear with a history of vaping to local or state public health officials for investigation.

In West Virginia, the Bureau for Public Health in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources issued a health warning Aug. 27 regarding severe pulmonary illness associated with vaping, also asking health care providers to report all suspected cases.

No cases have been reported out of Kentucky, according to the CDC's latest report.

In Cabell County, Elizabeth Adkins, Health and Wellness, public information officer at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said the agency has not received any notification of alleged vaping-related illnesses in the county.

"We will be looking at our current regulations on combustible items, which includes vaping items and e-cigarettes," Adkins said.

Adkins said the issue will be on the agenda for the next Cabell-Huntington Health Department board meeting, scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25.

"Currently, our regulations are that vaping and e-cigarettes are not allowed to be used in the same place that people are not allowed to smoke regular cigarettes," she said.

Goodwin says she understands people's concerns, but bans never work.

"Prohibition on alcohol did not work, and banning flavored e-liquids will not work either," Goodwin said. "It will only create a black market, which is even more dangerous for kids. Also, people would start making it themselves, and then you will see things really go bad."

Goodwin believes that if you buy e-liquids from a valid, registered vape shop with reliable products, you are safe.

"I have talked to vape shop owners from across the country, and this has already been devastating to their small businesses," she said. "It's like they want people to go back to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes that kill nearly a half-million people a year."

Even in states where recreational marijuana vape products are legal to sell, those states have seen large declines in sales in the wake of this nationwide health scare. Consumers are shifting their spending into other merchandise such as marijuana flower and pre-rolls, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

Vapes' share of the market in California stood at 32.8% the week of Aug. 19, falling to 29% by the week of Sept. 9.

"That's equivalent to a 12% drop in market share. Put another way, approximately one out of every $8 spent on vapes has shifted to other products such as flower and pre-rolls," said Eli McVey, research editor of Marijuana Business Daily.

"In Colorado, the share of vape sales fell even more sharply — from 19.2% the week of Aug. 19, to 14.5% by the week of Sept. 9. That's a 24% drop in market share, meaning one out of every $4 spent on vape products has shifted to other categories," McVey said.

For more information about vaping from the CDC, go online to https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter@FredPaceHD.


ChiliFest brings plenty of heat to downtown Huntington

HUNTINGTON — The 36th annual ChiliFest, the West Virginia State Chili Championship, brought the heat to downtown Huntington on Saturday with plenty of capsaicin, heartburn medication and temperatures reaching 90 degrees.

Thousands of people braved the heat at Pullman Square to try some of the best and hottest chili in the state, with names like "5 Alarm Chili" and "Apocalypse Chili."

The big winner was Bob Hall, of Taylorville, Illinois, who won the first-place trophy for best chili with his own unnamed recipe. Hall, a former International Chili Society champion, now qualifies for next year's International Chili Society's annual World Chili Championship.

Hall said the secret to his success was having been a chili cook-off judge before, including in Huntington.

"The No. 1 thing to help a chili cook is to judge chili," Hall said.

"That will tell him what the judges around the country are looking for, judging other people's and not just theirs."

Second place for best chili went to David Violette and third place went to Don Van Lehn, who each received a chili-shaped trophy made by Blenko Glass in Milton.

ChiliFest organizer Ron Smith said Saturday's event raised more than $66,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Tri-State, which gives families a free place to stay while their children are in the hospital.

Smith said temperatures and a host of competing events over the weekend didn't stop people from making the day a success.

"We have a children's hospital here in Huntington now, and we can't have a children's hospital without a strong Ronald McDonald House, and that's been one of our goals to help them," Smith said.

"It's their biggest fundraiser of the year and it's a one-day event, which is kind of nice."

The festival featured 36 solo chili cooks and about 12 community groups, many of whom donated their winnings to the Ronald McDonald House.

Winner for best chili among the community groups went to the Huntington Professional Firefighters Union, who have participated in the event for at least eight years. They sold more than $5,800 in chili cups during Saturday's event.

There isn't really a secret to making their fan-favorite chili except just making what people like, said Fire Capt. Aaron Williams.

"We generally have eight to nine distinctively different chilies, and we pretty much do the same each year unless people just don't like it," Williams said. "If people like it, we just keep making it."

Saturday's event featured a performance by Big Planet, which had many people dancing in Pullman Square.

Among them was Vickie Armendariz, of Hinton, West Virginia, and her 3-year-old nephew, Monte Woodson.

"My sister used to live here and we came for a baby shower, so we are making the most of our visit," Armendariz said. "So far I'm pretty pleased."

The event also featured a raffle for a chance to win a new Toyota Rav4 from Advantage Toyota in Barboursville. The winner was Lisa Lucas, of Huntington, who had already left the festival before her winning raffle ticket was drawn at random. Event organizers will contact Lucas to hand over the keys to her new SUV.

Since beginning 36 years ago, ChiliFest has raised more than $550,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Tri-State, as well as raising money for WSAZ Children's Charities.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


1 killed, 1 injured in 4th Ave. shooting

HUNTINGTON — Huntington police are investigating a shooting that killed one man and injured another person on 4th Avenue early Saturday.

At approximately 2:51 a.m., officers responded to reports of a shooting in the 800 block of 4th Avenue, according to a news release issued by Huntington Police Capt. Dan Underwood.

One man, identified as Sontezz Lomax, 39, was pronounced dead at the scene. Lomax lived in Charleston and previously lived in Huntington, according to the release.

Another person was transported to St. Mary's Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, believed to be caused by flying debris.

Detectives with the Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Forensic Investigation Unit were on scene and investigating Saturday.

No arrests had been made and no suspects had been named as of press time Saturday.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Huntington Police Department at 304-696-4420, ext. 1025, or the Crime Tip Line at 304-696-4444.

Lomax was previously the victim of a shooting in the 800 block of 4th Avenue on Nov. 8, 2009.

During that incident, Lomax was one of four people injured in an exchange of gunfire inside the former Club Babylon at 831 4th Ave. Lomax was struck twice.

In that case, police charged Reginald Marbury with attempted murder and Nicole Gutierrez Hughes with felony accessory before the fact to attempted murder. Police said Hughes supplied Marbury with a firearm used in the exchange. Marbury was also wounded, but later recovered.

A third man, Joe Jeremaine Porter, 30, of Huntington, was fatally shot by a Huntington police officer at the nightclub. Police said Porter had pointed a gun in the officer's direction.

Marbury later received a two-to 10-year prison sentence in a plea deal that allowed for Marbury's conviction without him admitting guilt or explaining his role in the incident.

Hughes received a three-to 15-year prison sentence in relation to a guilty plea to felony accessory before the fact to attempted murder.

Saturday's fatal shooting was at least the fourth homicide investigation for the Huntington Police Department this year.

It was the second fatal shooting in downtown Huntington since August.

On Aug. 4, Tyler Zhea Asbury, 19, of Lavalette, died after being shot at about 2 a.m. at the Hot Corner Bar in the 1400 block of 4th Avenue in Huntington. Since the shooting, the Hot Corner Bar has surrendered its liquor license to the West Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration.


US POLICE ASSESS RISE IN THREAT TIPS AFTER 3 MASS KILLINGS

LOS ANGELES — It had all the makings of a massacre. Six guns, including a Colt AR-15 rifle. About 1,000 rounds of ammunition. A bulletproof vest. And an angry Southern California man who threated to kill his co-workers at a hotel and its guests.

But a concerned colleague intervened, alerting authorities who arrested 37-year-old Rodolfo Montoya, a cook at the Long Beach Marriott hotel, the next day and discovered the arsenal where he lived in a rundown motor home parked near industrial buildings.

In the weeks after three high-profile shootings in three states took the lives of more than two dozen people in one week in August, law enforcement authorities nationwide reported a spike in tips from concerned relatives, friends and co-workers about people who appear bent on carrying out the next mass shooting.

Some of those would-be shooters sent text messages to friends or posted on social media that they hoped to one-up previous mass shootings by killing more people.