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Pro: Recent illnesses related to vaping reported in Texas, across US

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 129 cases of pulmonary disease among people who vape are under investigation in the state of Texas, as of a Sept. 30 report.

Of those 129 cases, 36 are probably and 39 have been confirmed to be related to vaping.

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman with the department, said people should be aware of the recent cases connecting vaping to illnesses and “consider if it’s something they should be doing.”

He said the department is receiving “pretty regular” reports of new cases, and is advising people to be aware of the news while health departments across the county examine the cause.

“First of all, we’re encouraging teens and young adults and pregnant woman not to vape at all, regardless of the ongoing investigations on these cases,” he said. “And if you don’t use tobacco, don’t start vaping now. If you do, be cautious.”

Brittany Burgess, the deputy assistant director of special projects and staff epidemiologist with the Victoria County Public Health Department, said she has not been aware of any cases connecting vaping and illness in Victoria County.

Meanwhile, across Texas, a number of authorities and organizations are taking steps to ban vaping.

In an Oct. 1 memo from Texas A&M University, University System Chancellor John Sharp directed presidents of each of the 11 universities and the directors of the eight state agencies within the Texas A&M University System to ban the use of e-cigarettes and vaping “as soon as possible.”

“This health threat is serious enough that I want to see the ban include every building, outside space, parking lot, garage and laboratory within the Texas A&M System,” the memo said.

Burgess said the health department can’t make a firm opinion about whether vaping should be banned entirely because it is still working to see whether there is a clear association between vaping and these recent respiratory issues.

But, she said, the public health department is discouraging its practice.

“Because there are many cases of individuals using vaping then having some form of a respiratory illness, we’ve discouraged people from using until we have time to gather cases and conduct an investigation,” she said.

She said she encourages people who do use vaping products to report to a doctor immediately if they begin to experience respiratory distress symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.

“Don’t ignore any symptoms,” she said. “It’s important people take a proactive step.”

Pro/con: Should vaping be banned in Texas?

Vaping has long been known as a way for people to leave smoking behind, as electronic cigarette products are often considered a healthier and safer alternative to traditional smoking.

E-cigarettes work by vaporizing a liquid mixture of nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. Because the vapor inhaled simulates the sensation of smoking, vaping has become a common alternative for many former cigarette smokers.

However, in recent weeks, the number of vaping-related illnesses and deaths has drastically climbed, and many states have taken action to combat what they say could be a significant health problem.

As of Oct. 3, there have been 1,080 confirmed cases of lung injury reported in 48 states and one U.S. territory and 18 deaths in 15 states related to vaping and e-cigarette products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In mid-September, New York became the first state to actually impose a statewide ban on most flavored nicotine vaping products, just days after the governor called for emergency action. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California have been among states taking action by declaring public health emergencies or calling on state agencies to develop recommendations for limiting the sales of vaping products.

Still, others say that it’s too early to jump to conclusions on how vaping affects an individual’s health. Some people claim the recent illnesses are caused by products not used in legitimate vaping and e-cigarette products and say, regardless, traditional smoking is undoubtedly more harmful.

Dazzling fireworks display closes Bootfest

Bootfest gave us a two-day festival filled with live music and family fun in downtown Victoria. The event featured Texas country music and classic rock tributes along with a variety of local favorites playing folk, country, blues, classic rock ’n’ roll and more. The kids’ corral offered a wide variety of rides, inflatable activities and performances to entertain all ages. Bootfest ended the night with a grand fireworks display.

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Anti-abortion advocates line Navarro for annual rally

The nearest abortion provider, Whole Women’s Health, is over 100 miles away from Victoria in southeast San Antonio. It’s one of 18 left in Texas.

That’s too close and too many for the more than 100 protesters who gathered along the west side of North Navarro Street between East Magruder Drive and U.S. 77 Sunday afternoon as part of the national Life Chain movement to oppose abortion.

Some motorists honked their horns in support as they drove by, while several others rolled down their windows and voiced their support for legal abortion.

Laura Liendo, 72, said she promotes alternatives to abortion, including adoption.

“If it is your choice, maybe you should think about having the baby and maybe somebody else would want to adopt it,” Liendo said. “There’s so many things out there to protect you from getting pregnant.”

Although many of those who oppose abortion are also against birth control, 41-year-old Sheila Bauer said she believes it’s a woman’s choice to use it.

“For each woman, it’s a unique case,” Bauer said.

According to Dr. Dana Gonzalez with Victoria Women’s Clinic, there has never been an abortion provider based in Victoria and local doctors can only tell women seeking an abortion where to go.

“If that’s their plan and their choice, they find a way,” Gonzalez said.

The Life Chain movement began in 1987 and invites congregations across the country to meet for an hour on the first Sunday in October to pray and rally against abortion.

Savannah Sanchez was the lone counter-protester on Navarro Street between 2 and 3 p.m. Sunday. She stood alongside nuns from the Incarnate Word Convent with a sign that read, “Abortion is Self-Care.”

“I’m a woman and nobody can tell me what I can do with my body,” said Sanchez, 21.

Although she’d seen the Life Chain protesters on Navarro Street in years past, Sanchez said this was the first time she’d felt compelled to voice her opinion.

“Today is the day I speak out,” Sanchez said.

Bauer said this year is the first time she attended in Victoria, but she began attending Life Chain rallies when she was growing up in Port Lavaca.

This year, she brought her husband and four of her five children.

“It’s the first year we’re doing it together as a family,” Bauer said. “We’re making my kids aware that this is an awesome thing to be able to do.”

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Congressman Michael Cloud to appear in live interview

U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, is scheduled to appear at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a live interview with Victoria Advocate Editor and Publisher Chris Cobler.

If you have questions you’d like to ask the congressman, please email them by 5 p.m. Monday to ccobler@vicad.com.

The interview may be viewed live on the Victoria Advocate’s Facebook page. A recording also will be posted at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

Public Health
Con: Illnesses related to vaping often connected to illegal products

The rise of illnesses and even deaths related to vaping are mainly connected to illegal products and harmful ingredients, said SCS Vape marketing director Jaclyn Ray.

Almost all of the recent cases – as many as 90%, Ray said – are related to illegal THC cartridges being made on the black market containing dangerous ingredients such as Vitamin E acetate, something not present in any product sold by any legitimate vape shop.

“None of these illnesses or deaths are at all related to products coming from legitimate, safe vape shops like ours,” she said. “People aren’t reading beyond the headlines and are jumping to conclusions.”

Ray said the recent news has made customers scared and has left the vape shop’s three storefronts fairly quiet.

“It’s caused a panic,” she said. “And what’s disappointing, is that for the years vaping has been around, there have been zero deaths until this summer, and states are making these moves without taking the time to figure out the facts.”

Moreover, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recent outcry over vaping is “horrible,” Ray said, because it’s leading people away from vaping and back to smoking.

“People are seriously recommending their loved ones go back to smoking,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

Ray said she smoked a pack of cigarettes a day starting when she was 16 years old for years, and vaping was the only thing that helped her quit.

“I tried going cold turkey, I tried patches, I tried everything, but vaping was the only thing that worked,” she said. “And most of our customers have very similar stories.”

Mission Valley resident Ashley Morris said vaping has been “100% a positive thing” in her life. She said she smoked for about 15 years, and just this spring, vaping helped her quit.

She said she hasn’t stopped vaping because, like Ray, she believes that all of the recent illnesses have been related to black market, unsafe products, and there is “nothing to be afraid of.” She said eventually she hopes to wean herself off vaping, too.

“Ultimately anything that you do is probably going to kill you, even foods and drinks and everything in life,” she said. “Just because people are trying to shut down the vaping world does not mean there is any reason for it.”

Ray said she hopes the public knows as long as they are buying products in a safe, reputable vape shop, there is “absolutely nothing to worry about.”

“We are dedicated and feel so strongly about helping people,” she said. “If vaping were to get banned, cigarette usage would go back up, which is worse, so there should not be any drastic decisions without the facts.”

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Hurricane Harvey
Refugio County lawsuit for poorly handled Harvey claim disputed

REFUGIO – The Texas Association of Counties is asserting Refugio County’s lawsuit, which states its claim from losses caused by Hurricane Harvey was improperly handled, has no grounds.

Refugio County is suing the Texas Association of Counties for $1 million for failing to properly handle its claim from losses caused by the storm. The association’s risk management pool provides counties with a “stable, sustainable resource of protection against risks and liabilities,” according to its website.

The association filed a response to the lawsuit last week, stating it “generally denies” the county’s allegations and “demands that it proves its allegations by a preponderance of the credible evidence.”

After Harvey hit Aug. 25, 2017, Refugio County contacted the Texas Association of Counties to file a claim on its insurance policy. The association’s response said that Aug. 28, 2017, it agreed to start making payments to the emergency responders in Refugio, and the first advance payment was issued two days later.

However, Refugio County said in the lawsuit, the association “improperly denied and/or underpaid Refugio County’s claim.”

The adjusters assigned to the claim, the lawsuit states, “conducted a substandard investigation and inspection of the properties, prepared reports that failed to include all of the damages that were observed during the inspections and undervalued the damages observed during the inspections.”

Refugio County paid $893,047.36 to the Virtus Group after, like Victoria County, bypassing bidding laws and entering into a contract with the Virtus Group that is almost identical to the contract Victoria signed. The Virtus Group is the out-of-state company at the center of a controversy over whether Victoria County spent Harvey recovery money in taxpayers’ interests.

According to the association’s response, the risk management pool is “not liable to the county for damages or losses resulting from the county’s failure to mitigate or its failure to take all reasonable steps to protect the property from further damage after a loss was sustained.”

To date, the association’s answer said, the pool has paid $3,864,634.45 on behalf of the county.

In its response, the association wrote the county has “not complied with several of the required conditions precedent to any waiver of the pool’s immunity from suit and any right of the county to sue the pool.” The required conditions, it explains, include submitting a timely and contractually compliant sworn proof of loss within 90 days of the alleged Aug. 25, 2017, loss; participating in a one-day pre-suit mediation in Travis County; and filing any suit against the pool in the district court of Travis County.

Because the county did not comply with the conditions, it says, the risk management pool remains “immune” from the county’s claims.

When reached by phone, Refugio County Judge Robert Blaschke said he did not want to comment on the lawsuit or the association’s response. Instead, he referred the Advocate to Arnold & Itkin, the law firm overseeing the county’s case.

Representatives from Arnold & Itkin did not respond to the Advocate’s questions before the publication of this story.

In its response, the association wrote that in the two years since Harvey, the risk management pool had multiple meetings and inspections with Refugio County in efforts to resolve the claims. In the last year, the pool held six on-site meetings with the county, continuing to try to help resolve the matter, it said.

At the meetings, the response said, the county was provided a copy of the claim financials and a status update of pending and required items as part of its duties and responsibilities to the claim. The federal government was also involved in some of those meetings.

Further, the association’s response explains that the risk management pool is a “governmental unit” and not an insurance company, which means it is not governed by the Texas Insurance Code. Moreover, government immunity protects government entities from suits for damages absent legislative content, it said.

When asked for comment, the Texas Association of Counties’ media relations officer said “pending litigation prevents comment.”

A hearing date has not yet been filed.