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NM Health Dept. has led vaping alerts

The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is one of many state and local health departments that, along with other clinical and public health partners in the United States, is actively investigating the ongoing multistate outbreak of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarette and vaping products.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest data as of Oct. 22, there have been 1,604 lung injury cases reported related to e-cigarettes or vaping in 49 states, the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory. Seventeen of them are in New Mexico.

Our NMDOH Epidemiology and Response Division has been highly responsive to the problem, meticulously investigating each case, working with federal agencies to acquire vaping supplies from patients for testing to determine the cause of their injury, issuing multiple public statements about the issue, and responding to dozens of media inquiries locally and nationwide. We have also proactively issued both a health advisory to the public about vaping lung-related injuries and an order to our department’s Medical Cannabis Program to have all medical cannabis producers and manufacturers in the state affix a warning label on all cannabis-derived vaping products.

With surprise and disappointment we read Dr. Barry Ramo’s op-ed column in the Oct. 27 Sunday Journal accusing our department of being “silent in regard to the (vaping) epidemic” when nothing could be further from the truth.

For the sake of accuracy, we share the following timeline:

• Aug. 21: NMDOH issued its first public warning shortly after the first cases were reported to the department.

• Aug. 29: NMDOH issued a second warning just days later after case numbers multiplied.

• September: NMDOH joined agencies nationwide to begin developing a webpage to serve a hub for Vaping-Related Lung Injury in the state.

While in development, our department was transparent, regularly in touch with every media outlet reaching out to us both in-state and out-of-state, to include national news outlets and television networks. We spoke with KOAT-TV, home to Ramo’s health reports for many years, which we respond to regularly. We discussed case numbers and answered all data requests, including all questions that we could legally answer while protecting patient privacy.

• Oct. 3: NMDOH issued a third warning to both the media and our constituents to include the announcement we were taking the steps to issue a health advisory to the public about the risks of use of all e-cigarettes and vaping products as well as order that warning labels be added to vaping products sold by Medical Cannabis Program dispensaries. It is within those documents that, as secretary, I led the “department to provide guidance, education and support for the addicted teens, their parents and teachers to begin to deal with this public health emergency” that Ramo publicly and inaccurately accused me and the NMDOH of not doing, despite the facts.

Our department messages regularly about e-cigarettes and vaping dangers on department social media from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter and will continue to do so. Given Ramo’s decades as a doctor and TV personality, we do not understand his lack of awareness regarding our far-reaching work, especially since he has been on our email contact lists for media and health messaging for years. In a September news alert, Ramo, as KOAT medical expert, was quoted along with our Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program (TUPAC) representative. In August, KOAT heavily quoted our state epidemiologist in a similar report.

It is important to us at the New Mexico Department of Health that everyone in the state knows we recognize the severity of this vaping-related public health emergency and have been persistently addressing the problem for months while maintaining a high level of vigilance about this emerging disease for the foreseeable future.

For the latest, regularly updated information about vaping-related lung injury in New Mexico, visit https://nmhealth.org/about/erd/eheb/vri/.

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