Eau Claire city and school district leaders are ramping up their efforts to combat e-cigarette use with some help from a health care organization.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Marshfield Clinic Health System is scheduled to provide a $500 grant to aid local efforts to deter use of e-cigarettes through a public campaign.
It’s part of a series of $500 contributions the health care provider, which operates a hospital and several clinics in the Eau Claire area, is contributing to local groups working to reduce vaping.
“Across our service area we plan on distributing 38 grants to community organizations,” said Jay Shrader, Marshfield Clinic Health Systems’ vice president of community health and wellness. Organizations across 18 counties are receiving the grants, he noted.
The Eau Claire area is receiving four $500 grants, Shrader said, one each to the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, Eau Claire City-County Health Department, Eau Claire school district and joint efforts of Eau Claire area law enforcement and firefighters.
Money for the schools will be used to deter adolescent students — the demographic that has seen a large increase in e-cigarette use — from vaping, but the other grants will go toward campaigns that will be seen throughout the community, intended to not only reach children but also their parents and other adults.
“We’re pooling our resources together to have a broader reach,” said Denise Wirth, community health promotion division manager at the health department.
The communitywide campaign is still being developed, but it is intended to come out this fall.
With trendy packaging, savvy marketing and easy-to-conceal forms that vaping products take, Wirth said she feels adults are “behind the 8-ball” at being vigilant to keep them out of children’s hands.
“I still feel there’s a lot of education that needs to be done,” she said.
A 2017 survey of high school students in the Eau Claire area revealed that 23.4% had used vaping products at least once — more than twice the 11.6% statewide average last year. Results from the 2018 survey are still being tabulated and will be released this autumn, Wirth said.
Marshfield Clinic has long been involved in anti-tobacco campaigns, but was spurred to take on vaping earlier this year after reports that e-cigarette use had skyrocketed among Wisconsin youth while traditional smoking was on the decline.
“We just knew we had to do something,” Shrader said.
The clinic sponsored two vaping forums — one of them held late May in Eau Claire — that brought health experts together to draw up plans to reduce e-cigarette use in their communities. At these forums, Marshfield Clinic announced it would be giving out the grants.
The grants are intended to quickly start up town hall events, public awareness efforts, policy development, bring guest speakers to schools and other ideas to deter e-cigarette use.
After grant recipients have their programs running and can gauge their results, Shrader said he will check back with them to see which techniques were most effective so they can be shared with other communities.
In recent weeks, there has been an outbreak of lung damage reports that are attributed to vaping.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that 450 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with e-cigarette use have been seen throughout the U.S. That was more than double the 215 cases the agency reported late last month. The tally in Wisconsin had reached 32 cases — a mix of probably and confirmed — with lung disease linked to vaping as of an Aug. 29 report by the state Department of Health Services. A Marshfield Clinic pulmonologist said she has treated two patients with severe lung inflammation, which she attributed to e-cigarette use.
Five deaths — one each in Illinois, Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota and California — have been linked this summer to using e-cigarettes.
Shrader worries that the recently reported instances of lung damage are just the beginning.
“I think we’re just seeing the tip of iceberg,” he said.
The health impacts of vaping are not fully known yet since e-cigarettes are still relatively new products and they have managed to skirt regulation.
“Basically it’s caught everybody by surprise,” Wirth said. “Because there isn’t research on it the FDA didn’t feel like it could come out against it and didn’t regulate it.”
And while marketing tobacco products to kids has long been banned, Wirth said that vaping products have gotten around that by using social media, including “influencers” — internet celebrities that teens follow on their smartphones.
Early advertisements also touted e-cigarettes as a way to quit tobacco, but Wirth said that hasn’t panned out and they’re just a substitute that people get hooked on.
“Oftentimes we’re finding people who start vaping or using e-cigarettes get more nicotine than they realize and get addicted quite quickly,” she said.