Baker bans all vaping products for 4 months

With cause of illnesses unknown, CDC official urges caution

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER declared a public health emergency on Tuesday, banning the use of all vaping products in Massachusetts for four months amid uncertainty about what’s causing a mysterious lung illness.

Baker’s ban, which will be enforced by the Department of Public Health, came as the number of lung illnesses appears to be growing. More than 60 Massachusetts residents have been reported to DPH with lung injuries potentially related to vaping and five of those cases have been passed along to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington.

Nationwide, the CDC had previously confirmed 530 cases, including seven fatalities in six states. But at a congressional hearing on Tuesday federal officials said hundreds of new cases have been reported during the last few days, and the death toll has risen to nine.

The illnesses all appear to be associated with vaping products, but the precise cause is not known. Symptoms include cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, low levels of blood oxygen, abnormal chest X-rays, and lung tissue damage. Those affected have been young and old and they have been users of multiple types of products.

“E-cigarette usage is exploding and it’s clear there’s a very real danger to the population,” Baker said at an afternoon press conference at the State House. “This temporary ban will allow state government and medical providers the time they need to understand the dangers and respond accordingly.”

Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told an emergency hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in Washington that the CDC has 100 people trying to determine the cause of the outbreak, but she said the investigation could take some time because of the variety of chemicals used in vaping products as well as the  nicotine and THC – the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high – that consumers are inhaling.

Schuchat recommended that consumers avoid vaping until the investigation is completed and the cause of the illnesses is discovered. “At this point I think caution in all products is recommended. It may not even be the THC or the nicotine. It may be the additives or substances that may be common. It may be the material is not labeled appropriately,” Schuchat said.

Schuchat also raised concerns about the e-cigarettes marketed by Juul, the market leader. She said those nicotine-delivery devices use nicotine salts that are dangerous for teenagers.

A number of elected officials supported Baker’s decision, but Shaleen Title, a member of the Cannabis Control Commission, strongly objected to the governor’s ban on vaping. “This is a terrible decision,” she said in a post on Twitter. “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.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said its emergency order bans the sale or display of all vaping products in retail establishments, online, and through any other means. The definition of vaping products applies to any device “that relies on vaporization or aerolization” to deliver its product.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“’Vaping products’ does not include any product that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration either as a tobacco use cessation product or for other medical purposes and which is being marketed and sold or prescribed solely for the approved purpose,” the DPH order said.

The order authorizes State Police or local police to seize vaping products that continue to be sold in violation of the order. Violators are subject to a $1,000 fine for each violation.

The order took effect immediately on Tuesday and will run through January 25, 2020.