This article was originally published on Sept. 24, and was most recently updated on Oct. 25.
Elected officials have reacted quickly and drastically to the outbreak in vape-related lung illnesses across the U.S. this year, with more than a dozen combined state and city governments taking action over the last month to curb what officials are calling a nationwide epidemic.
In the name of protecting teens and keeping more people out of the hospital, a growing list of governments have banned the sale of flavored e-cigarette products, mostly on a temporary basis.
Vape Lung Injuries Spark Moves
Federal authorities have said investigations into lung injuries associated with vaping suggest illegal, unlicensed products containing THC have played a role in the outbreak.
Almost all of the states to report deaths do not have adult-use marijuana legalization in effect. The deaths occurred in Alabama, California (3), Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia (2), Illinois, Indiana (3), Kansas (2), Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota (3), Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon (2), Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
What’s Up in Your State
Officials in all 50 states have released public warnings in the past 60 days urging residents to exercise extreme caution when using vaporized products, or, in most cases, to avoid their use altogether. 7 states have now implemented bans or partial bans. If your state is not listed below, no recent action has been taken.
State officials have not restricted vaping products, but San Francisco in June prohibited all e-cigarettes from being sold within the city limits. On Oct. 1, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban all flavored tobacco products, which includes vape pens and e-cigarettes.
Golden State officials instead are fighting back with propaganda. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 16 issued an executive order allocating some $23 million for an advertising campaign against the industry, underage sales and counterfeit products. The Los Angeles Times reports the LA County Board of Supervisors is moving toward its own ban on flavored vape products.
Democrat Rep. Krista Griffith told local affiliate WBOC that state lawmakers are in the process of drafting legislation to ban flavored vape products and restrict advertising. A spokesman for the Gov. John Carney suggested to the TV station the governor may also soon be on board.
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Republican State Rep. Grant Wehrli filed a bill on Sep. 13 to create the Flavored Tobacco Ban Act. If passed during next year’s legislative session, House Bill 3887 would ban the sale of both flavored e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products.
No restrictions as of yet. On Oct. 25, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she’s ruled out an executive order to ban vaping products. Educational efforts about the potential health risks of vaping products seems to be working, she told reporters. Iowa has recorded 43 cases of VAPI. Of those, 34 were associated with illegal street-market cannabis vape cartridges.
Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday, Sept. 24, initiated a full ban of all vaping products and devices in the state for four months. The first of its kind in the nation, Massachusetts’ ban applies to both online and retail sale of all kinds of nicotine and cannabis vaping products through Jan. 25, 2020.
Baker’s office, apparently taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach, said the sale of both cannabis and nicotine vape products will be prohibited.
Baker’s ban was challenged by a host of vape store owners who responded with a lawsuit against the state. On Oct. 4, just five days after the suit was filed, a federal judge upheld the ban, widely regarded as the most stringent of any state in the country.
Things grew more confusing in late October. On Oct. 25, a Suffolk County judge issued an order “allowing” medical cannabis patients to use flower vaping devices to vaporize dried cannabis flower. At the same time, the sale of equipment used to vape dried flower, such as the Pax 3 or Firefly 2, remains prohibited under Gov. Baker’s ban.
In other words, patients who already own a flower vape may legally continue to use it, and may purchase flower for use in such a device.
It’s worth noting that the judge’s order underscores the fact that the judge and the governor’s office have a limited understanding of how flower vaping actually works. Cannabis flower remains legal for all adults in Massachusetts. If patients need to vape flower, they can simply purchase flower and then vape it. It’s the same flower used in pipes, bongs, and joints.
The first state to approve regulations for a statewide ban on e-cigarettes and vaping products, Michigan on Sept. 4 cut sweet flavors, mint, and menthol flavors from its list of approved vaping products. The ban does not cover tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, though.
A spokeswoman from the office of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the first-term Democrat enacted the ban to “prevent predatory corporations from getting our kids hooked on nicotine.” Whitmer also said she would ban the advertising of vaping products via misleading terminology like healthy, safe, and clean.
The emergency ban began on Oct. 2 and was set to expire in March 2020. But a state Court of Claims judge temporarily blocked the ban on Oct. 15. Whitmer called the block “wrong” and said her office will be seeking a swift resolution with Michigan’s supreme court.
The Treasure State on Oct. 8 announced a four-month ban of its own on flavored vaping products, set to begin on Oct. 22 and last through Feb. 19. On Oct. 18, however, a judge halted the state’s temporary ban. Ravalli County District Judge Jennifer Lint signed a temporary restraining order that prohibits state health officials from enforcing Gov. Steve Bullock’s emergency rules on flavored vaping products.
Lint’s action came in response to a lawsuit filed by three vape shops and a vaping industry group.
Gov. Bullock told the Associated Press the ban is designed to curtail vaping by Montana’s teens. State officials estimate about 22,000 people between ages 12 and 18 use vaping products regularly.
“It’s fundamentally frightening that kids are being purposely exposed to these substances by the vaping industry, putting their lives and long-term health at risk,” Bullock told the AP.
Judge Lint’s restraining order is temporary, so check this space for further updates as they happen. As of Oct. 21, all flavored vaping products remain legal to sell and purchase.
Democrats Sens. Shirley Turner and Joe Vitale each introduced bills that would prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, according to an NBC affiliate. The bills will be introduced in next year’s legislative session.
New York on Sept. 17 became the first state to actually implement a statewide ban on most flavored nicotine vaping products, beating Michigan by just one day. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency regulation, good for three months, did not immediately outlaw the sale of menthol-flavored products.
Authorities were to begin enforcing the new regulations on Oct. 4, but a court issued a temporary restraining order on Oct. 3, prohibiting the ban from taking effect. A group of vaping industry officials had challenged Cuomo’s order, and were successful at least in halting it for the time being. The longer-term status of vaping products is still to be determined.
On Oct. 4, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Liquor to enact a temporary 180-day ban on the sale of flavored vaping products, as well as other sources or additives that public health investigators link to the vaping-related illness. Brown also asked the agencies to develop proposals for long-term solutions to present to the Legislature during the 2020 legislative session.
The ban went into effect on Oct. 15, but an injunction from a state appeals court two days later allowed flavored vaping products without THC to continue being sold. Only vaping products with THC are now banned.
On Sep. 25, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order banning the sale of flavored vapes in the Plantation State. The measure went into effect on Oct. 4 and will last four months with the option to be extended down the road. But like Washington, Rhode Island’s ban won’t apply to unflavored tobacco products.
State officials on Oct. 2 limited sales of vape products to licensed tobacco stores and required those stores to place a notice of the dangers of vaping unregulated THC inside the store, even though such stores are not licensed to sell THC products.
The Evergreen State’s policy appears to mirror that of Rhode Island. Gov. Jay Inslee said on Sep. 27 he’s starting with flavored vapes, but hopes to eventually extend beyond that with the help of next year’s state legislature. The ban took effect on Oct. 9 and will remain “as long as I’m governor,” Inslee vowed.
One of the vaping industry’s trade associations filed a lawsuit in Washington state on Oct. 21 to try and block the ban.
Other states have proposed an array of sanctions, but have yet to move forward. Some are merely ramping up the anti-vaping propaganda or allowing cities to enact bans on a local level.