LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Vaping is now being blamed for seven deaths across the country, and some University of Louisville researchers are working to determine why the practice is so attractive to young people.
They say the obvious answer is that most people see the electronic cigarettes as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. They also note the fact that e-cigarettes come in a variety of flavors.
In any event, they say a growing number of people are kicking the smoking habit, only to get hooked by vaping.
Troy LeBlanc is president, not just of Derb E Cigs — which describes itself as "the premier e-liquid and vaping hardware supplier of the greater Louisville, Kentucky Area" — but also of The Kentucky Smoke Free Association.
"We have 46,000 customers in the Kentuckiana area," he said. "We've grown rapidly over the past several years."
LeBlanc's company manufactures and distributes e-liquid to stores across the world. He believes the recent public health crisis ignited by vaping is misleading and false.
"The illnesses that have happened over the last 45 days are all attributed to THC cartridges, all black market, all THC cartridges, all illegal," explained LeBlanc.
Dr. Joy Hart, Ph.D., is a professor and researcher at the University of Louisville. She's not as quick to draw conclusions about the deaths.
"There seems to be some commonality with some of the cases, but overall, there's just not enough evidence to know," she said.
Hart said it's clear that the deaths were connected to vaping, but exactly how vaping caused the deaths is not clear. But she says she does know of one thing that attracts the youngest users of e-cigarettes.
"We found that flavors triggered use. So it's one of the major factors that got people interested," explained Dr. Hart. "I think youth are especially attracted to flavors that make them seem like adults. So, pina colada, for example, might be something that would attract or interest, if you were 16-years old, cool sounding flavors like wagon dragon."
Hart said the study included interviews with hundreds of youth about vaping and even revealed something about her own students and e-cigarettes.
"They were like, 'They use them in your classes.'"
JUUL Labs, Inc. is a popular vaping company that has recently faced criticism and even a lawsuit from a Kentucky man. The lawsuit alleges the company targets youth with its flavored liquid pods and camouflaged e-cigarettes.
"Some of the devices are pretty easily concealed," Hart said. "One of the newer products is a product that looks like an Apple Watch, and you tap it and it shows the time, but you can also use it to vape."
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is now considering a ban on flavored vaping.
"People are dying with vaping, so we're looking at it very closely," President Donald Trump said.
LeBlanc was recently in Washington, D.C., hoping to explain the difference between vaping and the product being produced by JUUL.
"If you were to ask me, JUUL is the problem," LeBlanc said. "They're using extremely high nicotine and they're selling at every gas station. The vaping industry has been around for 10 years and now, all of a sudden, since JUUL came out, we're an issue."
LeBlanc said there were no definitive answers in D.C., but he does have another meeting with lawmakers in the next few days.
LeBlanc said there needs to be more research before the government takes action. He is also not against regulations.
"But sensible regulation," he said. "Not an all-out ban. I am for regulating the packaging, I am for regulating where its sold, I am for making sure the places that are selling it are upholding the laws and age restrictions."
LeBlanc says misinformation about vaping is causing users to go back to tobacco products.
"We are losing about $18,000 a week, just in Kentuckiana, of vape users going back to combustible cigarettes."
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