According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 805 lung injury cases related to e-cigarettes and vaping have been reported in 46 states—including Massachusetts—and one U.S. territory. Twelve deaths have been confirmed. Vaping products containing THC appear to have played a role in most cases, but no single product or chemical links all of the cases.
Last week's declaration by Governor Charlie of a public health emergency and a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products in response to the outbreak came at a time when local boards of health were already taking action to combat growing use of e-cigarettes by minors by banning the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products in general retail outlets. Under regulations promulgated in Chatham and Harwich, those products are only available to those 21 years and older in adult-only smoke shops. Three smoke shops were permitted in Harwich immediately before the ban, and one application was filed in Chatham. A permit for the latter is on hold pending the applicant securing a lease.
Keeping flavored vaping products off the shelves of stores frequented by young people is a step in preventing what appears to be an increase in smoking and tobacco use after years of decline. They will still be available in the smoke shops, however, and the more smoke shops there are, the greater the possibility of these items getting into the hands of youths. Harwich has a cap of three adult smoke shops, and those three permits have already been granted. This seems a bit like overkill to us; two would have been sufficient. Chatham has no cap, and the health board should consider one, again, of no more than two.
THC vaping products will not be available in Chatham or Harwich since both towns voted to prohibit marijuana sales, but once the four-month ban expires, it's likely that unflavored nicotine e-cigarettes will once again go on sale. The Baker Administration plans to work with other states and the federal government to study the outbreak and determine its cause. Given the uncertainty of the situation and the pernicious nature of e-cigarettes, however, we believe that the ban should be extended at least one year. Local health boards should, we believe, go further, following the lead of San Francisco and banning the sale of all vaping products from all stores, including adult tobacco shops. This public health crisis has all the telltale signs of the scourge of cigarette smoking that has killed so many and been an incredible burden, socially and economically, on society. It's time to nip this one in the Juul, so to speak, while we still can.
In the meantime, those who are trying to quit either cigarettes or e-cigarettes should work with their health care provider or contact the Massachusetts Smokers' Helpline at 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669), or www.makesmokinghistory.org.