Hearing on Baker’s vape ban to be held on Nov. 22

A man exhales a cloud of vapor from his electronic cigarette. Lindsay Fox / Wikimedia Commons

A public hearing regarding Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s “vape ban,” the emergency regulation which prohibits the sale of all e-cigarettes and vaping products, is scheduled for Nov. 22, according to the State House News Service

The Republican governor initially announced the ban as a public health emergency on Sept. 24, following a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that associated more than 800 cases of lung disease with e-cigarette use, several of which ended in death

However, the sudden ban was met with a series of lawsuits challenging its legitimacy and decrying its effect on local businesses.

After Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled that the previous iteration of the ban must be altered to increase transparency to the public or be lifted, the emergency regulation, titled 105 CMR 801: Severe Lung Disease Associated with Vaping Products,” was unanimously approved by the Public Health Council on Oct. 25.

In addition to establishing the regulation through the Department of Public Health (DPH) and scheduling the first public hearing on the matter, Baker was required to file a statement estimating the ban’s impact on small businesses.

The emergency regulation became effective on Oct. 28 when the DPH submitted it to the Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin; it will expire on Dec. 24 unless the DPH acts to make the regulation permanent, according to the State House News Service. 

Municipal boards of health, and not the state government, were responsible for communicating with retailers to enforce the ban.

Doug Kress, the director of the Somerville Department of Health and Human Services, explained that even though all stores in Somerville were compliant, there were no instructions on what to do with the prohibited product once it had been removed from the shelves.

“There was no guidance for us, so we just asked them to take it off their shelves and not sell it,” Kress said. “They didn’t ask for it to be locked up anywhere … so you’d have to ask the business owners what they’ve done with it.”

According to Malik Hayat, manager of Blue Moon Smoke Shop in Teele Square, the question of what to do with the inventory left his store’s owner with substantial costs because of the amount of now-unsellable inventory across his stores. 

“He easily lost $300,000 to $400,000, maybe more,” Hayat said. “He tried to give back what he could to vendors, but it’s all gone.”

Hayat speculated that the cost imposed on business owners by the ban went beyond just the lost inventory and diminished future sales, especially those of convenience stores, which offer goods other than e-cigarette products.

“I’d go [to a convenience store] and get menthol ingredients and some groceries or snacks or something, but now I can’t,” Hayat explained.

Hayat expressed concern that Blue Moon Smoke Shop’s Teele Square location, which opened only four months ago, may eventually have to close due to the significant decrease in business since the ban was enacted.

“It’s like 50% of our business is gone, or more like 60%,” Hayat said. “All along we’ve been busy, but after the vape ban, it’s all gone.”

Hayat worried the ban posed a challenge to many of those who used or planned to use nicotine vaping products to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, possibly pushing them back to traditional smoking. 

“You can’t stop just like that,” Hayat said. “People don’t want to, but feel like they have to.”

But for Ian Wong, director of health promotion and prevention at Tufts, the ban presented an opportunity to encourage students to end their nicotine addiction altogether. 

In addition to the publicity campaign featuring posters around campus and inside residence halls, Wong highlighted coordination with Peter Doyle, associate medical director of Health Service, to provide medical assistance to help people end their addiction.

“We’re making sure that students have and understand the different medicines and everything else that they can use if they want to quit smoking,” Wong said. 

However, the legal and political debate surrounding vaporizers for marijuana, especially those for medical marijuana patients, has been even more tumultuous than those regarding other e-cigarettes and vaping devices. 

While initially included in Baker’s ban, Wilkins ruled on Nov. 5 that the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) is the only regulatory body that may govern marijuana, offering medical marijuana patients using vaporizers a temporary reprieve from the ban. 

But the CCC announced on Nov. 12 an immediate quarantine on all marijuana products using vaporizers, except for those that use the flower of the cannabis plant itself, called “flower vaporizers.” 

The CCC’s press release cited a Nov. 8 announcement by the CDC that vitamin E acetate, an additive and thickening agent resembling THC oil used in e-liquids, was associated with all of the samples from patients suffering from the mysterious lung disease.

As of Nov. 6, three individuals out of the 220 reported cases of the vaping-associated lung disease in Massachusetts have died, according to a DPH press release.