SHAMOKIN DAM — Trevorton resident Alyssa Bradigan is well aware of the controversy surrounding vaping but it isn’t deterring her from her daily recreational use of electronic cigarettes.

On Tuesday, one day after the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced it is investigating 37 suspected cases of lung-related illness linked to vaping, Bradigan visited Vapor Worx in Shamokin Dam for a refill.

“I trust them here,” she said of the store employees who advise her on the contents of the many varieties of vaping liquid they sell. “I wouldn’t buy it at a gas station.”

As vaping related deaths rise — the sixth fatality was reported in Kansas on Tuesday — the debate over its safety rages on with the FDA advising people to avoid products containing THC and the Centers for Disease Control recommending not using e-cigarettes at all.

Dr. Brian Michaluk, a family medicine physician at Evangelical-Milton, said there’s too much unknown about the contents of electronic cigarettes as evidenced by the mounting deaths and illness linked to vaping.

“I don’t know how a consumer would know all the ingredients in it,” he said. “It’s now shown that you can damage the lung (by vaping) but what component is causing it?”

Vapor Worx co-owner Damian Patrick, who has been selling electronic cigarettes for three years and using the product for 10 years, said his shop does not carry the THC cartridges containing vitamin E acetate that health officials are attributing to many vaping-related illnesses.

“All the liquid we carry has a certificate that (explains) the process the manufacturer uses to make the liquid and a list of all the ingredients,” he said. “Nothing’s better for you than fresh air, but choosing a vape over a cigarette is much better.”

Not so, says Dr. Jaya Sugunaraj, a pulmonologist at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, who compares the health danger of vaping to cigarette smoking.

“This is what happened in the 1960s when cigarettes were fashionably cool. Twenty, 30 years later, I’m taking care of patients dying of lung cancer,” he said.

Sugunaraj is most concerned about the 3.6 million U.S. youths who last year began vaping and other children that will continue to use e-cigarettes that come in a variety of flavors, including fruit and candy. He says the products are aimed at youth.

“Vape shops are marketed so cooly and vaping doesn’t carry the stigma of (smelly) cigarette smoking. It’s a dangerous phenomenon. It’s not surprising that five people have died before and it’s going to get worse,” said Sugunaraj shortly before news of the sixth vaping-related death in Kansas was reported Tuesday afternoon.

He considers vaping such a health risk to children he’s calling on the community — parents, teachers, coaches and medical professionals — to address an industry that is widely unregulated with no quality control.

Patrick said his shop does not allow minors to enter and his product is aimed at the adult user.

He also agrees that more regulation is needed to keep the harmful products off the market.

“I’d like to see sensible regulation that guarantees the safety and consistency for consumers,” said Patrick.

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