Declaring a public health emergency, Gov. Charlie Baker Tuesday called for a four-month ban on all sales of e-cigarette and vaping products in Massachusetts amid the nationwide outbreak of a lung illness associated with the devices.
The temporary ban, which was expected to be quickly ratified by the state Public Health Council, would immediately halt all retail and online sales of nicotine and flavored, non-flavored, and marijuana vaping products through January 25, 2020.
“I’m declaring this public health emergency because medical and disease control experts have been tracking a rapidly increasing number of vaping related illnesses that in some cases have led to death,” Baker said at a press conference. “We as a Commonwealth need to pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving these life-threatening, vaping-related illnesses.”
Gov. Baker, officials make announcement on public health issues of vaping in Massachusetts https://t.co/Gb3oYpHavx
— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) September 24, 2019
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 530 cases of lung injury in 38 states related to e-cigarette use have been confirmed. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are currently investigating the incidents.
In some cases, patients reported using both Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — an active chemical in marijuana — and nicotine products, state officials said Tuesday.
The state Department of Public Health mandated Massachusetts doctors to report any “unexplained vaping-associated pulmonary disease” earlier this month.
Baker said, as of Monday night, 61 cases had been reported, of which three confirmed cases and two probable cases have been reported to the CDC while DPH continues its probe.
Tuesday’s announcement comes days after pediatric experts and pulmonary doctors met with the Baker administration to discuss what conditions they’ve seen in their patients, particularly children and adolescents, according to Baker.
“What I heard was deeply troubling,” he said.
Teen vaping has climbed in Massachusetts in recent years. In 2017, one in five of all youth reported using vape products regularly, while 41 percent reported trying e-cigarettes at some point, according to state officials.
The Baker administration anticipates using the four months to delve into the particulars of the health crisis and vaping-related illnesses, including by potentially drafting new regulations and legislation and funneling resources toward smoking cessation programs and public awareness efforts, officials said.
The moratorium will also allow time for the CDC and DPH to continue to analyze individual cases, Baker said.
“Vaping is a public health crisis and it is imperative that we understand its impact at both the individual and overall health care system level,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement. “As a result of the public health emergency, the Commonwealth is implementing a statewide standing order for nicotine replacement products, like gum and patches, which will allow people to access these products as a covered benefit through their insurance without requiring an individual prescription, similar to what our administration did to increase access to naloxone.”
Baker’s announcement received swift criticism from Shaleen Title, a commissioner on the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, who said the ban will force e-cigarette users to the black market.
“This is a terrible decision,” Title wrote in a tweet. “Purposely pushing people into the illicit market — precisely where the dangerous products are — goes against every principle of public health and harm reduction. It is dangerous, short-sighted, and undermines the benefits of legal regulation.”
This is a terrible decision. Purposely pushing people into the illicit market — precisely where the dangerous products are — goes against every principle of public health and harm reduction. It is dangerous, short-sighted, and undermines the benefits of legal regulation. https://t.co/57OaVYf5nY
— Shaleen Title (@shaleentitle) September 24, 2019
According to Baker, DPH, local health boards, and law enforcement will be charged with carrying out the ban in communities across the state.