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CDC and FDA Urge People to Stop Vaping While It Investigates 5 Potentially-Linked Deaths

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  • The CDC and the FDA are temporarily urging people to stop vaping after five deaths were potentially linked to the use of e-cigarettes.
  • The CDC also said it received 450 cases suspected to be a result of vaping-related illnesses.
  • Over recent months, some city and state governments have taken measures to ban either the sale of all e-cigarettes or the sale of flavored vaping products.

Vaping Illnesses and First Deaths

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are asking people to stop using e-cigarettes, at least temporarily, following reports of five deaths possibly tied to vaping-related illnesses.

Specifically, the FDA is warning people not to use cannabis vaping products following a statement from the New York State Department of Health last week. In the statement, the department said it potentially linked 34 cases of “severe” pulmonary illness to an oil found in cannabis vaping products.

The warnings come after the reported deaths an adult in Indiana, a 55-year-old adult in California, and a 65-year-old in Minnesota. So far, officials have only linked cannabis vaping use with the individual from Minnesota, who was already known to have a history of lung disease.

The reports also follow two deaths from Illinois and Oregon. 

“When you think about it, these e-cigarette devices are really like chemistry sets,” Dr. Jonathan LaPook told CBS News. “You put in this liquid, you lick it, you heat it up – there’s some kind of chemical reaction. You’re creating all these different chemicals. You’re not entirely sure what these chemicals are, but we are sure of one thing: You are sucking a lot of them.”

Notably, the New York State Department of Health says it believes some of the products in its investigation may be counterfeits of the state’s medically-approved marijuana, though the person who died in Oregon appears to have purchased the product legally. Because of this, officials aren’t sure if this is a problem with legal vaping products, off-the-street vaping products, or both.

Federal health officials have also now logged 450 cases across 33 states suspected to be from vaping-related illnesses.

Monday morning, the FDA issued a warning letter to Juul for “engag[ing] in labeling, advertising, and/or other activities directed to consumers, in which JUUL explicitly and/or implicitly has represented that JUUL products are free of a substance, have a reduced level of or exposure to a substance, and/or that JUUL products present a lower risk of tobacco-related disease or are less harmful than one or more other commercially marketed tobacco products.”

A String of Illnesses

In April, health departments in Illinois and Wisconsin followed 53 patients who had vaped, with a third of those people ending up on respirators.

In August, the Washington Post reported that “Within days, [one man] had gone from being a 20-year-old hiking enthusiast to being kept alive by two machines forcing air into and out of his lungs and oxygenating his blood outside of his body.”

Around the same time, the CDC was reportedly investigating almost 200 vaping-related respiratory illnesses.

In the New York State Department of Health investigation, health officials believe some of the illnesses may result from vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from vitamin E and used in cannabis vaping products.

While the health department said patients in the case had used a variety of vaping products, all of them admitted to using cannabis-vaping products.

Vitamin E acetate is a product found in foods like canola oil and almonds. It is safe to eat and apply to the skin, but health officials fear it may be dangerous to inhale. Oils are naturally fatty substances, and the lungs are unable to process them, meaning that when the oil is breathed into the lungs as a vapor, it soon cools down and liquefies in the lungs.

Neighboring immune cells will then work to get rid of the fatty oil, potentially leading to inflammation and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. 

As of yet, no agency has concluded that vitamin E acetate is responsible for the illnesses. The FDA is also investigating other possible contributing agents like TCH, nicotine, synthetic cannabinoids, pesticides, or opioids. 

“No one substance, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples,” the FDA said in a statement. 

Regulating E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes have raised the eyebrows of health officials since the product exploded onto the market without FDA approval. 

Vaping companies like Juul have marketed their products as healthier than cigarettes and have promoted them as tracks to quit smoking altogether.

In June, San Francisco banned the sale of e-cigarettes. 

Last week, the governor of Michigan used executive authority to ban flavored nicotine vaping products. That order will last six months, and it’s largely been seen as an attempt to keep e-cigarettes out of kids’ hands, with people arguing that fun flavors get kids addicted. Others, however, have argued that the flavors could help adults quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. 

On Monday,  reports surfaced of an Alabama school removing some of the stall doors from a boys’ restroom to stop teens from using e-cigarettes in school. Many people then called the move excessive, but the principal said he’d already found a student passed out after vaping too much.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNBC) (The independent)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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Derek Chauvin Qualifies for Longer Sentence Over George Floyd’s Murder, Judge Rules

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  • A judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin ruled Wednesday that there were enough aggravating factors in the former officer’s murder of George Floyd that could qualify him for a longer prison sentence.
  • While Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges he faced, Minnesota state law only allows him to receive prison time for the most serious charge of second-degree homicide, which has a max sentence of 40 years but a recommended sentence of 12.5 years for people with no criminal history.
  • The judge ultimately agreed that Chauvin qualifies for longer sentencing because prosecutors had proven that he abused his power as a police officer, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
  • Chauvin is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

Judge Cahill Rules on Aggravating Factors

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the former Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, thus qualifying him for a longer sentence.

While the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges he was facing, Minnesota law says that he will only face sentencing for the most serious charge, which in this case is second-degree murder.

That charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, but state sentencing guidelines recommend 12 and a half years for someone with no criminal history. Prosecutors asked Judge Cahill for what’s called an “upward sentencing departure,” arguing that there were five factors that should open Chauvin up to a maximum sentence.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, Cahill wrote that prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt four of those five factors.

In his decision, Cahill agreed with the prosecutor’s claim that Chauvin had “abused his position of trust and authority” as a police officer and that he “knew from his training and experience” that the neck restraint he used Floyd in “danger of positional asphyxia.” 

Cahill also supported the argument that the former officer had been “particularly cruel” to Floyd, who he wrote “was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge he was likely to die,” adding that Chauvin “remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas.”

The third and fourth aggravating factors that the judge sided with prosecutors on were that Chauvin had committed the crime as part of a group of three or more people and that he perpetrated that crime in front of children.

Notably, Cahill did reject the fifth aggravating factor brought by prosecutors, who argued Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because he was handcuffed and held facedown on the street. The judge said that prosecutors did not prove that argument, writing that Floyd had been able to resist arrest before he was put on the ground.

Additional Charges

The ruling comes just a few days after Chauvin and the three other officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges by a grand jury.

Chauvin was also indicted on a second, separate federal charge related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017, during which he allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

According to reports, if he is convicted, he would likely serve the federal sentence at the same time as his state one. However, the federal charges may impact the pending August trial of the three other officers, who have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Separately, last week, Chauvin’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging misconduct by the judge, prosecutors, and jurors, signaling additional continued litigation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Teens Attack and Rob 80-Year-Old Asian Man in Northern California

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  • Viral surveillance footage shows an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area being assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police say are teenagers.
  • Police believe the suspects are as young as 16, and at one point, one can be heard in the video giggling from the getaway car as the victim cries for help. 
  • The news comes after the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data showing that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March.

Suspect Laughs at Victim During Attack

Surveillance video going viral on social media captured an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area getting assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police believe are teenagers.

The full video is extremely distressing. It shows the man getting knocked to the ground, trying to fight off his attackers as he cries for help. To make matters worse, at one point, high-pitched giggles can be heard coming from another teen in the background. That person appears to be inside a getaway car nearby.

The victim was robbed of a watch and sustained minor injuries. Police have also said that a vehicle similar to the one used in this case was spotted at a strong-armed robbery in a nearby San Leandro area less than two hours later, where another victim was robbed of her purse.

Police believe the suspects are as young as 16.

Surge of Crimes Against Asians in U.S.

This is just the latest violent attack against an Asian person making headlines since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, reports emerged regarding two Asian women who were attacked with a hammer in Times Square by someone demanding they remove their masks. Two other Asian women were recently stabbed while waiting for the bus in downtown San Francisco.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data Thursday saying that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March — with Chinese people as victims in 44% of these acts.

Vancouver Sees Massive Influx of Anti-Asian Hate

While anti-Asian hate crimes have surged in the U.S., the situation may be worse in Canada, specifically in Vancouver. Around 42% of people in Vancouver are of Asian descent and at least 25% speak Chinese — making it the most heavily Asian city in North America.

Still, it witnessed a 717% year-over-year surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Bloomberg even dubbed it the Anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, saying more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in the city of 700,000 people last year than in the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.

That’s part of why people all across the city are participating in more organized action to speak out against anti-Asian hate. For instance, several rallies took place in Vancouver Monday to mark the National Day of Action Against Anti-Asian Racism.

See what others are saying: (ABC 7) (Bloomberg) (Forbes)

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