Father of teen with vaping illness says state vaping investigation not enough

There have been 68 cases of vaping related illnesses in the state

By Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter, News Service of Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tom Pantazi is getting used to spending his days at Wolfson Children's Hospital.

Pantazi was in the hospital two weeks ago with his 17-year-old son Dallas who was diagnosed with a vaping related illness.

Dallas was released from the hospital, but he quickly returned with the same symptoms. Tom Pantazi said Dallas did have asthma before, but it was never as severe as it is now. 

The biggest obstacle the Pantazi family face now is not knowing the long-term effects.  

"Is it crazy to be a part of this world where we still don't know because everything's unknown," Tom Pantazi said. "What kills me is we know what we know and I can still walk across the street and buy a vape pen."

It's not just Pantazi family that's fed up with the lack of answers.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said that's one of the reasons why she opened an investigation into the 20 vape companies in the state as the vaping epidemic continues to grow.

The Florida Department of Health reports 68 cases of vaping related illnesses in the state and at least one death.

The CDC has officially named the series of lung illnesses related to vaping, called EVALI.

It is not normal for the attorney general to announce that an investigation has started, usually they wait until the case can be made. But with an estimated 1 in 4 high school students admittedly vaping, Moody said they can not wait.

"Because of the drastic increase in the number of kids becoming addicted and because we suspect this is related to intentional marketing to youth, we needed to get out in front of this and let Floridians know, number one, that were looking at it. We're going to be thorough in our investigation, and we hold accountable any companies that are intentionally targeting our youth towards vaping products," Moody said.

Though none of the vaping companies being investigated are in Northeast Florida, there are confirmed cases of vaping related illnesses in the area.

Lizard Juice is one of the companies being investigated. It's based in South Florida – but has a store in Baymeadows. Moody believes these companies may have knowingly marketed and sold vape products to kids. Pantazi agrees.

"Kids wouldn't be interested if you weren't marketing directly at them," Tom Pantazi said. "They wouldn't be going there and finding ways if you weren't targeting them as an audience. I don't go looking for a vape pen because you don't target me."

The Florida Department of Health released a report in April 2019 noting a 58 percent increase in the use of e-cigarettes among Florida high school students from 2017 to 2018. According to the report, nearly one in four Florida high school students admits to vaping, Moody noted. One study found two-thirds of young persons didn't even know vaping products contained nicotine.

Tom Pantazi said the announcement on Wednesday barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done to prevent other kids from ending up in the hospital like his son.

"17 years old and he's back in the hospital again, one more time...and we don't know if this is the last time, it's one more time," he said. "How many more times are we going to have to deal with this because he decided to vape?"

Moody said it is going to be awhile before anything comes out of the investigation. There is currently legislation on the state level that would ban all flavored e-cigarettes and raise the minimum age of smoking and vaping from 18 to 21.

The CDC is recommending people should not use e-cigarette or vaping, products that contain THC or that are modified.

Copyright WJXT and News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.