By Miriam Fauzia
BU News Service
BOSTON – State health officials passed a four-month statewide ban on the commercial sale of all e-cigarette devices and products Tuesday afternoon. This decision comes at the request of Governor Charlie Baker who declared a public health emergency in light of growing cases of severe lung disease associated with e-cigarette use.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced there have been 61 confirmed cases of vaping-related lung disease in Massachusetts. Other cases are pending for further clinical analysis.
“We as a Commonwealth need to pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving this life-threatening vaping-related illnesses,” Gov. Baker said. “We also need to better understand the inherent dangers of vaping while being a teen.”
Similar bans have passed in New York and Michigan, both of which have prohibited the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, but Massachusetts is the first state to ban all vaping devices. The ban went into effect Tuesday afternoon and is expected to last until January 25, 2020.
Monica Bharel, Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health, said there is a possibility of extension if cases persist.
“Our goal is simple, we do not want another generation of children to become addicted to nicotine,” said Bharel. “We do not know what the cause of these illnesses is but the only thing in common with each one of these cases is the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products.”
The ban prohibits the online or in-store sale of vape pens, flavorless and flavored vaping products, as well as products containing THC, other cannabinoid compounds or nicotine. Governor Baker and Bharel said the Department of Public Health, local boards of health and the Cannabis Control Commission will work with law enforcement to help enforce the order.
Distributors found in violation may be subjected to significant fines and police seizure of product. In conjunction with the ban, the state will provide affordable FDA-approved nicotine replacement and vaping cessation therapies.
“We will be increasing our 1-800-QUITNOW line’s capacity to field calls,” Bharel said. “[We] will provide nicotine replacement therapy to all Massachusetts residents who call the quit line and will supply nicotine replacement therapy for eight weeks.”
Previously, only four weeks of patches were provided prior to the vaping illness crisis. Education is also an important factor in the successful outcome of the ban. Clinicians who spoke at the public health council meeting believe that advertising of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes has encouraged its consumption amongst youth.
“We have to be absolutely relentless in our education in every aspect of social media,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program. “We have to be absolutely out there with education so that the fact it’s not viewed as the ‘safer cigarette’ or safer way to do something. That the dangers are spelled out clearly and so there is no confusion.”