TEWKSBURY — Governor Charlie Baker issued a temporary statewide ban on vape products on Sept. 24 in an effort to give public health officials a chance to investigate a string of respiratory illnesses tied to the use of such products. Health departments across Massachusetts had to jump into action to alert their tobacco permit holders of the ban and to order product removed from store shelves immediately.
Considered a public health emergency, the measure “is in response to confirmed and suspected cases of severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products in the Commonwealth,” according to a press release issued by the state house.
A multi-state outbreak of lung-related disease has been linked to vape products, both nicotine and THC varieties, and so far, there has not been a determination of any single cause. E-cigarettes are battery operated devices which consist of a small coil which heats a liquid, contained in an adjoining cartridge, creating a vapor which is then inhaled through a mouthpiece. Another name for this is vape, as in vaporize. Cartridges can contain flavor compounds, nicotine infusions, and THC liquid, the hallucinogenic component of marijuana.
While vape products were initially designed as a smoking-cessation aide, the products are considered highly addictive, especially for youth, and now experts are concerned about the rapid rate of addiction to e‐cigarettes, use and overuse of marijuana vaping products, and cases of youth becoming hospitalized within two weeks of using vaping related products. The action is considered a response to an epidemic, with 530 cases across 38 states and seven fatalities reported to date, according to the Governor’s directive.
The four-month ban is effective immediately, requiring local boards of health to serve notice quickly to outlets that sell vaping products. The order specifically restricts “the sale or display of all vaping products to consumers in retail establishments, online, and through any other means, including all non-flavored and flavored vaping products, including mint and menthol, including Tetrahydrocannibinal (THC) and any other cannabinoids, is prohibited in the Commonwealth.”
The ban will expire Jan. 25, 2020.
Tewksbury’s Health Department immediately informed the town’s 33 tobacco product permit holders of this ban, which includes the removal of advertising and display of vape products.
According to Town Sanitarian Shannon Sullivan, “a majority of the places have already removed it off the shelves and taken down all their signage.”
As of Sept. 26, Sullivan only had seven locations to revisit and would serve a cease and desist order if compliance was not achieved. The Tewksbury Board of Health does not typically enforce tobacco regulations as there is a regional enforcement agency, but this mandate came down from the Governor and state Public Health director Monica Bharel to be enacted immediately. However, information as to the penalty for continuing to sell vape products during the ban is unclear.
Hours after the ban was announced, Juul Labs, the e-cigarette company that has become synonymous with vaping, said that it had begun a restructuring plan that could result in layoffs, according to a report in the New York Times. Massachusetts retailers are only ordered to remove product from store shelves, not destroy product at this time.
Walmart stopped selling e-cigarettes nationally and Juul, the dominant manufacturer, is losing market share quickly as it is being accused of marketing to youth and health concerns mount.