Growing concerns over vaping-related illnesses have prompted local companies and government officials to enact new rules to help stifle the epidemic. 

Bexar County Commissioners Court approved Tuesday a proposal to ban e-cigarettes and vaping products at all county facilities, a decision prompted by growing health concerns surrounding the use of the products, and issues with people smoking e-cigarettes inside County buildings.

The County’s decision was prompted by a couple of things. Two weeks ago, a person vaping inside the Paul Elizondo Tower set off the fire alarm and caused complete evacuation of the building. Last week, Texas grocery giant H-E-B discontinued sales of all e-cigarette products in its stores. Dya Campos, director of public affairs at H-E-B, told the Rivard Report that “the unknown health impacts led [the company] to remove the products from the shelves.”

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said that while the ban of e-cigarettes in County buildings was prompted by use indoors, the initiative “[signals] up to Austin that we believe there needs to be common-sense protections for both those who work around e-cigarettes and those who smoke.”

Campos said research regarding the increased use of e-cigarettes by children helped inform H-E-B’s decision, and noted the grocery chain would continue to sell traditional tobacco products at all its stores. The company was in favor of changing the legal age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21 years of age, which passed during the legislative session and went into effect on Sept. 1.

“We are always looking out for the best interest of our customers and the Texans that we serve,” Campos said.

H-E-B competitor Walmart made a similar decision last month when it banned the sale of e-cigarettes at all its stores, citing the lack of information regarding its health risks. 

A ban on e-cigarettes has also been announced by Texas A&M University System, which on Tuesday announced campuses throughout the state would no longer allow vaping, citing recent revelations about how electronic cigarette use or vaping can lead to lung illnesses.

Smoking is already banned on most parts of A&M’s properties, but this policy would be more stringent.

So far, at least 805 people in 46 states and one U.S. territory have been afflicted with vaping-related lung disease and 12 people have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most have been hospitalized, and many have needed medical assistance to breathe. Many of the patients are young adults who were otherwise healthy.

According to the 2018 Texas Youth Tobacco Survey completed by the Department of State Health Services, 13 percent of Texas youth have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, which breaks down to 18.9 percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle school students.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff applauded H-E-B and Walmart’s actions in banning e-cigarettes and said, “it’s good to see the private sector stepping up.”

“The general public didn’t know how dangerous vaping is,” Wolff said. “It turns out this is very dangerous. We are very concerned about that. I’m hoping that everybody moves along and the legislature and the federal government will take action.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.