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BLOOMINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's announcement Wednesday that it will ban non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes was called "prudent" by health professionals and "misguided" by representatives of the vapor products industry.

"Banning flavored products would be prudent as education campaigns and other efforts continue to try to curb use by young people," Bloomington-based Chestnut Health Systems said in an email to The Pantagraph. Among Chestnut services are substance abuse treatment and behavioral health care.

But The Smoke Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois — which consists of Illinois businesses that make, sell and distribute vapor products and other alternatives to combustible tobacco — said "The proposed ban on flavorings is a misguided, knee-jerk reaction to a serious issue we are currently facing."

"There has been a rash of lung illness tied to illicit market THC carts," the coalition said in an email to The Pantagraph. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is an intoxicant.

"This has nothing to do with e-cigs or e-liquid and a ban on flavored e-liquid is an ineffective response to the situation at hand," the coalition said.

However, on Wednesday evening, JUUL Labs, an e-cigarette company, told The Pantagraph "We strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products. We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective."

The decision came as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 450 cases of severe respiratory illness among people using electronic cigarettes in 33 states. That includes six deaths, including of an Illinois resident.

Illinois has 42 confirmed cases across 17 counties, the median age of the patients is 22 and most of them needed to be placed in an intensive care unit, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

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Durbin has been calling for FDA to remove e-cigarette products and kid-friendly flavors from the market, as recommended by the American Medical Association. AMA this week warned the public to stop using e-cigarettes until health officials can understand the cause of the illnesses. AMA also called on FDA to ban e-cigarette flavors.

"Vaping targets kids and these flavors — mint, menthol, gummy bear, Unicorn Milk, lung candy — have been essential to the industry luring children into this new addiction," Durbin said. "I will closely review FDA's guidance."

Chestnut said "Vaping poses a serious health threat to adolescents and teens. Rates of e-cigarette use and vaping are on the rise locally. The 2018 Illinois Youth Survey indicated that, in Bloomington-Normal, usage rates among students in grades 8, 10 and 12 had more than doubled in the past two years."

As of spring 2018, 7 percent of Bloomington-Normal 8th graders, 15 percent of 10th graders and 27 percent of 12th graders had used e-cigarettes, Chestnut said. Vaping is inhaling and exhaling vapor produced by an e-cigarette.

But the vaping industry coalition said that flavors are an important tool in assisting a cigarette smoker-turned-vaper to remain smoke-free. "Unfortunately, this ban will lead to a completely unregulated market where e-liquid will be flavored with readily available flavorings that may be inappropriate for vaping.

"At the behest of adult consumers, a large segment of the vaping industry is based in flavored products. Hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs will be lost in Illinois," the coalition claimed.

Ron Pease is the chief executive officer of Mister-E-Liquid, which started as an online retailer of vape juice in 2010 and has since opened several stores across Michigan and Illinois. It owns two BloNoSmoke Illinois locations in Decatur and Lincoln.

"Flavors are not the issue," he said. "The THC carts are the issue. Those are illegal and are not being sold in these local shops. They are being sold on the side and those people are not going to follow the law anyway, so they will likely still sell flavors because they don't care about the law. You are not going to find THC carts in family-owned or corporate-owned businesses."

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Analisa Trofimuk of Lee News Service contributed information for this story. Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.

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