Baker Declares Four-Month Ban on Vaping Product Sales

“E-cigarette usage is exploding and it’s clear there’s a very real danger to the population,” Baker said at a news conference where he declared vaping-related lung illnesses a public health emergency in the Bay State. (Photograph by Sam Doran/SHNS.)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday ordered a four-month ban on all in-store and online sales of vaping products in Massachusetts, citing a need to learn more about health risks associated with e-cigarettes in the midst of a multi-state outbreak of lung illnesses.

The ban, which is the first of its kind in the country, applies immediately to all flavored and unflavored vaping products and devices, including tobacco and both medical and non-medical marijuana.

“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,” Baker said. “We also need to better understand the inherent dangers of vaping both nicotine and marijuana. With all this information we can then develop a set of targeted measures and response.”

Since Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel on Sept. 11 mandated that any unexplained vaping-associated pulmonary disease be immediately reported, 61 cases have been reported to the Department of Public Health.  The governor declared a public health emergency in connection with the vaping-related illnesses, and put his ban before the Public Health Council, which met in an emergency session and unanimously ratified it to a round of applause from doctors and advocates in the audience.

The ban took effect just after 4:30 p.m. after the ratification vote, and lasts through Jan. 25, 2020, according to Baker’s office.

The council also approved a statewide standing order making nicotine-replacement products like gum and patches available at pharmacies as a covered insurance benefit without a prescription. Sudders said the order was similar to one previously adopted to increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan.

Pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Alicia Casey said she and her colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital have seen multiple teenagers with chronic symptoms, some becoming more severely ill. She called the ban a “critical and necessary step.”

“We have had teens with cough, mucus production, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, low oxygen levels, needing oxygen, breathing tubes and ventilators, not responding to antimicrobial therapies, undergoing multiple tests to uncover the cause and sustaining at minimum temporary but possibly permanent lung damage,” Casey said. “We cannot stand aside and allow our children to become the next generation of nicotine addicts.”

As of Sept. 17, 530 cases of lung injury associated with e-cigarettes or vaping had been reported to the CDC, and seven deaths were confirmed. Missouri officials announced an eighth death on Sept. 19, and Kansas announced the ninth on Monday.

Though Michigan and New York have previously taken action to ban flavored vaping products, Sudders said Massachusetts is the first state to institute an emergency ban applying to both flavored and unflavored products. President Donald Trump has also announced a plan to remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market.

Sudders said local boards of health will be responsible for enforcing the ban.

(Colin A. Young contributed reporting.)

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