Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts issued an emergency order on Tuesday that bans all vaping products in the state. The governor’s move comes as he declared a public health emergency with the ongoing rash of serious lung illnesses that have been linked to vaping.
The ban was swiftly approved by the Massachusetts Public Health Council on Tuesday and went into effect immediately. The prohibition on vape products is currently scheduled to end on January 25 of next year, although it could be extended by Baker or the council.
Baker said at a press conference at the State House on Tuesday that a meeting with healthcare professionals last week prompted him to act, saying he found their experiences with the crisis “deeply troubling.”
“One of the experts said that, ‘We don’t have time to wait. People are getting sick and the time to act is now.’ I couldn’t agree more,” Baker said.
Dr. Alicia Casey, a pediatric pulmonologist at Boston Children’s Hospital who appeared at the press conference with the governor, said that some of the hospitalized teens she has been treating required ventilators to survive and could have permanent lung damage.
“I can assure you that these products are not safe,” Casey said. “This ban is a critical and necessary step to combating this epidemic of youth vaping.”
Ban Widely Criticized
Baker’s action is already being criticized by small business owners, the state’s nascent cannabis industry, and even state regulators, who note that it is mostly unlicensed cannabis products that have been implicated in the lung illnesses. Shaleen Title, a member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, blasted the move by Baker.
“This is a terrible decision,” Title wrote in a tweet. “Purposely pushing people into the illicit market—precisely where the dangerous products are—goes against every principle of public health and harm reduction. It is dangerous, short-sighted, and undermines the benefits of legal regulation.”
The Washington, D.C.-based industry group the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF) also disagreed with the ban, saying that “media reports suggest that unregulated products containing THC may be a primary source of the epidemic.”
“While we share Gov. Baker’s concern for public safety and his desire to address the epidemic of lung illnesses, we are fearful of the unintended consequences of a ban on the sale of state-regulated cannabis products used in vaporization devices,” said CTF in a statement on the ban. “By banning cannabis vape products that are produced according to state regulations, it significantly increases the likelihood that individuals will seek to purchase those products from unregulated sources.”
David O’Brien, the president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, called on state officials to quickly determine if licensed cannabis products are involved in the spate of lung illnesses.
“There seems to be a conflation of all things vaping,” O’Brien said. “Stores will do what they’re told, but let’s not have an elongated time-out—let’s figure out what’s at issue, and if legal cannabis is not the issue, then let it be sold. I strongly suspect it isn’t.”