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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

September 6, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times

For kids’ sakes, Illinois should ban flavored e-cigarettes

The health hazards of vaping are becoming more evident by the day, and Illinois officials must take steps to curb the risk.

Indiana health officials on Friday reported the nation’s third death from a severe, mysterious vaping-related lung illness. Hours later, Minnesota confirmed a fourth vaping-related death, and Los Angeles officials said they suspect vaping as a “probable cause” in a fifth death.

Also on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control reported that as many as 450 cases of serious lung disease have been linked to e-cigarette use - more than double the number of cases the agency reported in late August.

The CDC is urging people not to use e-cigarettes at all while they investigate the exact cause of the illnesses, some of which have been linked to counterfeit devices containing THC - the active chemical that creates the “high” from marijuana - or a Vitamin E contaminant.

As Illinois State Rep. Julie Morrison told us, “You’d have to be living under a rock not to realize the health risk we’re seeing.”

Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield, plans to introduce legislation in the fall veto session to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted a similar ban just days ago.

We support the proposal. As we see more and more evidence of the potential deadly risk involved, it’s a smart, necessary move to protect our kids.

E-cigarettes are covered under the state’s new ban on selling tobacco products to anyone under 21.

Yet “young people who are not even old enough to be buying these products tell me how it easy it is to buy them online or in a convenience store,” Morrison said. “Flavors are one of the main components that bring kids into (vaping). They think it’s the latest cool thing.”

A ban wouldn’t infringe on the rights of adults who are willing to accept the risks, since non-flavored devices still would be available.

Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has the e-cigarette industry in his crosshairs too. His office is aggressively investigating the industry for engaging in marketing practices that appear aimed squarely at teens.

“The evidence increasingly shows that vape products, especially when combined with THC, are extremely harmful,” Raoul said in a statement. “I encourage the General Assembly to explore this issue, particularly flavored products that seem to be aimed at children and young people.”

In Illinois, the state Department of Public Health is now investigating 42 cases of vaping-related illness, up from 22 cases in late August. Those cases include two teenagers, from Gurnee and New Lenox, who were hospitalized with lung problems after using e-cigarettes. Both said they first started vaping with fruit-flavored devices.

The CDC believes a chemical is causing the illnesses, but it still hasn’t identified a specific chemical or product common to all the cases.

“Although more investigation is needed to determine the vaping agent or agents responsible, there is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response,” Dr. David C. Christiani of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote in a Sept. 6 New England Journal of Medicine editorial. “E-cigarette fluids have been shown to contain at least six groups of potentially toxic compounds.”

The public is likely to hear industry officials continue to insist that their products are safe, and blame counterfeit street products laced with THC.

But remember this: the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year began investigating 127 cases of seizures or other neurological problems related to vaping. As the FDA points out, seizures or convulsions are “known potential side effects of nicotine toxicity.”

If these products truly are safe and effective aids for smokers who want to quit, the industry should consider dropping its lawsuit against the FDA’s May 2020 deadline for e-cigarette makers to submit their products for approval.

Let the FDA investigate and settle the matter.


September 6, 2019

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

The troubling outlook for democracy when reading declines

A San Diego State University survey of more than a million teens found the percentage of high school seniors who read a book, magazine or newspaper every day has plummeted from 60 percent in the 1970s to 16 percent in 2016.

Teens, not surprisingly, instead are picking up snippets of knowledge (and other things) on social media and streaming entertainment. Such a habit can have serious implications for our democracy.

Gabrielle Martin, one of the co-authors of the study led by SDSU psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, told the university’s news center, “Scrolling through social media platforms can be a passive way of taking in information, or misinformation, and it requires a shorter attention span. I worry that this doesn’t help develop critical thinking skills in the same way reading traditional media would.”

Kids in increasing numbers are not reading for pleasure anymore, the study concludes. The report reveals that in the early 1990s, 33% of 10th-graders said they read newspapers almost every day. By 2016, only 2% did.

This naturally concerns those of us in the newspaper business. It should concern you as well, for an increasing body of research points to two worrisome consequences when newspapers are not used or available — a decline in civic engagement and an increase in questionable government behaviors.

A 2018 report in The Journal of Politics suggested that voters without access to newspapers get less information and less substantive information, and they are less well-informed about candidates. A 2018 Swiss study found that voter participation is higher in communities with access to strong local newspaper coverage. A team of researchers including two University of Illinois professors published findings in July 2018 that communities with reduced access to newspapers saw costs of local government borrowing rise as much as 11 basis points.

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In addition to all this, a study published last November in the Journal of Communications found that voters become more partisan when their access to a local newspaper declines.

“The more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government,” said Johanna Dunaway, professor of communications at Texas A&M; University, a co-author of that study.

These reports did not differentiate subjects according to age, but it is easy to see how the findings will translate to future generations if they do not make use of the comprehensive, in-depth resource for local and government news that newspapers provide. Without newspapers, a significant percentage of investigative journalism — the type of reporting that uncovers graft, exposes polluters, finds waste in government and protects underrepresented people, withers and dies.

For more than a century, newspapers have been adapting to technology-related shifts in reader behavior, and they continue to make adjustments to remain relevant and essential in the Digital Age. The research shows that goal is important not just for newspapers but for all our communities.


September 6, 2019

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Pedestrian safety is a priority

The damage that can be done to the human body when it is hit by a moving vehicle can be catastrophic.

The most tragic result of a vehicle-versus-pedestrian crash can be death, but even those who are fortunate enough to survive the trauma can be left suffering from chronic pain or a permanent physical disability.

If a driver who hits a pedestrian is not drunk or under the influence in some other way, they may not face any more sanction than a traffic citation.

Take the example of a March crash outside the McHenry Home Depot store, where William Dammeyer, 71, of Johnsburg, was struck and killed by a pickup truck driven by 19-year-old Christian J. Zientko of McHenry.

McHenry police cited the driver for failure to stop at a stop sign. Although officials have said publicly that the investigation is closed, the police have refused to release details about what witnesses said they saw that day.

Any crash in which driver negligence causes the death of another seems like it ought to command a more serious response from the justice system than a simple traffic ticket.

At least drivers who are found to be at fault in a crash where a pedestrian in a crosswalk is killed can have their license suspended for a year by the Secretary of State.

That’s not the case if the pedestrian survived but suffered a “Type A” injury, which the state defines as severe “wounds, distorted extremities, and injuries that require the injured party to be carried from the scene.” A person could be left suffering from chronic pain or lasting disability, and outside of a potential lawsuit, the driver would face no sanction.

A new law signed in August by Gov. JB Pritzker will close that loophole in July.

Dubbed Mason’s Law, it now allows the Secretary of State to invoke a one-year suspension on a driver who hits and seriously injures a pedestrian either in a crosswalk or a school zone.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, was the bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate.

“This new law will help make sure that pedestrians can cross the streets safely, and that people who endanger the lives of pedestrians, especially children, are held accountable,” Barickman said.

Accidents can happen on the road, but among the basics we learn in driver education is to always give the right of way to pedestrians and to drive carefully in areas with a lot of people on foot - including parking lots, city streets and school zones.

There should be penalties beyond a simple fine and a moving violation for drivers whose carelessness is found not only to kill someone, but also to seriously injure them, as well.

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