ARKANSAS, USA — The fast-moving crisis that has led more than 400 people across the country to get sick from vaping has both public health officials and members of the burgeoning vaping industry concerned.
"What we're saying is that this is not safe. If you don't smoke, or if you haven't tried these products, don't start," said Dr. Greg Bledsoe, the Arkansas surgeon general delivering a message that has had to be repeated several times over the past few weeks.
"I'm not ashamed of what's going into our e-liquid," said Scout Suggs, co-owner of five Drippers Vape Shops. "I want people to know what's in it and I want them to be safe."
The pressure is on for both Bledsoe and Suggs.
People are getting sick and some are dying because of vaping. The crisis comes after public health failures decades ago with tobacco, and more recently with opioids.
"There is a strong and appropriate concern over public health officials that we get this right," Dr. Bledsoe said. "It's people's lives we're talking about."
But vaping is also legal for adults, and until recently, many saw vaping as a way to quit smoking.
"What I'm worried about is that adult smokers are scared to switch to vaping because of some illegal THC cartridges that are making people sick," Suggs said, referring to signs that some of the six deaths came after inhaling vapor infused with one of the chemicals in marijuana.
The presence of a vitamin E oil, in several cases, is emerging as a leading cause. So far, that hasn't been pinned down as a problem in Arkansas.
Suggs hopes to avoid a broad brush.
"To restrict an adult from a legal product that helps them quit smoking because of some illegal people breaking the law doesn't make sense in the United States," she said, adding that business has declined as the crisis developed.
Dr. Bledsoe and Suggs both agree on keeping all nicotine products out of the hands of young people. Beyond that, the state's top doctor wants a measured response to solving the problem among adults.
"I'm willing to give people their appropriate rights and appropriate distance for legitimate businesses," he said. "But at the same time, I think it's a trust but verify relationship."