Bans are here, and more are coming.
In response to the explosion of vape-related illness around the country—as of October 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 1,300 people were sick, and 26 dead—officials are taking action. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems to be taking its time, several states and some cities have placed temporary or permanent moratoriums on the sale of flavored—and sometimes all—e-cigarettes.
Many drug-war skeptics, as VICE has been reporting for weeks, see this as a mistake.
"By carefully and thoughtfully regulating products, rather than banning them, you can maximize the public-health utility of electronic cigarettes as harm-reduction tools, while at the same time minimizing the risks to youth," said Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University. "We have failed to do that here because our approach has been more of a prohibition-like mentality. This is what happens when you shun the idea of harm reduction."
Some, though not all, of these vape-linked illnesses, have been linked to THC oil and black-market products, but the CDC hasn't held back, instead recommending "that you consider refraining from using e-cigarette, or vaping, products" entirely. President Trump, for his part, has told the FDA that the agency should go about launching a blanket ban on flavored e-cigarettes—a conflation, some experts have said, of the illnesses and the "epidemic" of youth vaping.
Meanwhile, vapers, as CNN reported, are becoming more and more politicized, banding together on Twitter under the hashtag "We Vape, We Vote." Mom-and-pop vape shops are already preparing to close, and some of these owners blame the prohibition bandwagon politicians have jumped on.
But others—including the entire British health system, and plenty of American experts—maintain the belief that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes and a good way to help smokers quit. And in addition to widespread fear that bans of any level could propel more people to a black market, there is already evidence that vape panic is driving at least some people back to cigarettes.
Still, the temptation for politicians and other public agencies to show resolve has been strong. Below is a list of states and some major cities that have, in some way or another, curtailed or banned the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products.
This story will be updated as the news—and the bans—continue.
Although California has yet to formalize a ban of any kind, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and state public-health officials declared on September 24 that everybody should cease vaping, full-stop. Earlier that month, instead of using executive action as many other governors have done, Newsom pledged $20 million for a brand-new public-awareness campaign—an initiative intended to spread the word about the apparent dangers of illicitly vaping nicotine and, most especially, THC. Specifically, he asked public-health officials to find fresh, effective ways to warn people of the consequences.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, it was a busy summer for the local politicians trying to ensure that JUUL, the vaping giant whose headquarters are in the city, didn't pump enough money into television advertisements and a pro-vaping grassroots group to overturn a sales moratorium on all e-cigarettes. Not long after JUUL announced a new CEO (from the Big Tobacco producer Altria), a suspension of all advertising (including its infamous "Make the Switch" commercials"), and a promise not to interfere in any federal flavor ban if it should be pursued, it also stated that it would pull out of the San Francisco fight. (It had already spent close to $11 million.) To date, California cities have been some of the first in the U.S. to move toward their own bans; one close to San Francisco, Livermore, will have a ban on the ballot in 2020.
The trend has moved south as well. On October 1, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban all flavored tobacco products (as well as menthol), and urged Newsom to pursue a statewide ban. And in what was thought to be the strictest tobacco ban ever, Beverly Hills prohibited selling tobacco products of almost any kind in June—one exception being if you wanted to purchase a cigar to smoke in, say, a hotel lounge.
On September 24, Republican Governor Charlie Baker made news when he put in place the strictest vaping prohibition on a state level: Massachusetts, he said, would ban the sale of all e-cigarettes for four months. (Though you could still buy Massachusetts products from out of state on the internet or by phone.)
"The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents," Baker said in a statement.
Vape shop owners did not take kindly to the move and pushed to sue the state—arguing that the reason for these diseases are illicit products, most especially those containing THC, and they should not be unjustly punished for selling safely to their customers. However, on October 4, a day after a judge put a temporary hold on a similar ban in New York, a federal judge upheld the one in Massachusetts.
In the meantime, protesters have been gathering outside the statehouse in Boston to voice their concern about the ban.
Michigan moved faster than most states when, on September 4, it became the first to officially declare a ban e-cigarettes. (It was enforced beginning October 1.) Citing the familiar refrain of public-health concerns of teenage vaping use, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, ordered it to take effect for six months, and cover both online and retail sales.
"As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe," Whitmer said in a statement. "And right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today." (JUUL has denied marketing to children.)
As in Massachusetts and New York, a vape-shop owner has sued the state, claiming that Whitmer overstepped her authority. A decision on the matter has been repeatedly delayed.
On October 8, as the Associated Press reported, Montana issued a temporary sales ban on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping devices. It was slated to start on October 22, and end on February 19, a period during which the Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, thought health officials could figure out the root cause of vaping-related illnesses and how best to combat them in the future. It's a move, the governor said, that he hoped would discourage teen use, which he noted had apparently soared in the state: Daily use among high school students, he said, had gone up 263 percent between 2017 and 2019.
On September 15, a few days after President Trump urged the FDA to take faster, more sustained action and federally ban flavored e-cigarettes, Governor Andrew Cuomo took matters into his own hands: He issued an emergency order to ban flavored e-cigarettes, giving vape shops until October 4 to stop selling such products.
(Though his original proposed ban did not include menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, Cuomo was later persuaded by the state health commissioner, Howard Zucker, to include them.)
"Vaping is dangerous. Period," Cuomo said at a press conference, according to the New York Times. "No one can say long-term use of vaping—where you're inhaling steam and chemicals deep into your lungs—is healthy."
On October 3, however, the day before New York's ban was set to go into effect, a New York State Appellate Court delayed it. The lawsuit had been filed by a trade group called the Vapor Technology Association, alongside retailer Benevolent E-Liquids and a New York-based vape store named Perfection Vapes, on the grounds that the government was essentially overreaching its authority.
Following neighbor Washington's example (see below), on October 11, Oregon issued a temporary ban on all flavored vaping products, effective on October 15 and scheduled to last at least six months.
"We continue to get the message out that nobody should vape," said Dean Sidelinger, an Oregon health officer and state epidemiologist.
One day after Governor Baker called for his four-month ban in Massachusetts, Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo formalized one on flavored vapes in her state, too. It began October 4 and was set to also stretch four months, with the possibility of an extension. As the Providence Journal reported, citing Department of Health spokesperson Annmarie Beardsworth, "under the emergency regulation established by the Rhode Island Department of Health, selling the embargoed products online in Rhode Island is not permitted, and neither is shipping the banned products to customers in Rhode Island from out of state."
"I'm deeply concerned about the rapid increase and effects of e-cigarette use among youth," Raimondo said, according to the Journal. "That’s why in Rhode Island we’re taking action to ensure that companies can no longer market these products with colorful packaging and candy-based flavors."
Utah is rather original: On October 2, public-health officials in the state instituted a new policy that only allows "tobacco specialty shops" to sell e-cigarettes and vaping products—and only if the owners of those stores consented to placing seemingly poster-size warnings about the dangers of vaping unregulated THC, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Vape owners and harm-reduction experts, however, pointed to the irony in the mixed message: that officials in Utah appeared to be acknowledging that most of the reported illnesses in the state came from vaping THC oil and not nicotine.
The Tribune cited health officials as saying that "94 percent of Utah's patients reported vaping THC, and 64 percent reported vaping nicotine." (Utah has confirmed, as the same paper reported, "76 cases of vaping-related injuries, and another 14 potential cases are under investigation." One death had been confirmed as well.)
On October 10, following up on an executive order from Democratic Governor John Inslee, Washington health officials banned the sale of flavored vaping products for the next 120 days.
"This is a critical part of our response to the youth vaping epidemic and the outbreak of vaping associated lung injury in Washington and throughout the country,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a statement. "While we don’t yet know the exact cause of the lung injury, we know these products are not safe and we must act quickly to protect young people."
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.