Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state-wide public health emergency yesterday in response to the unidentified lung illnesses across the country suspected to be linked to vaping products. In a press conference, Baker called for a 4-month ban on all vaping products in the state that would last until January 24, 2020.
Massachusetts has so far seen 61 possible cases of vaping-related illnesses. While other states, such as New York and Michigan, have attempted to crack down on reports of illnesses by banning flavored vaping products, Gov. Baker’s move will prevent state-wide sales of all vaping products and devices, including both tobacco and cannabis—a first.
“I think it’s clear that the problems are being caused by illicit market products, and I think that a ban pushes people into the illicit market,” Shaleen Title of Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission told Cannabis Wire. “I think it’s a bad idea.”
“It’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing, which is use regulation to make products safer,” Title continued, adding that she hopes other states do not follow Massachusetts’ lead on this action. “Information about the illnesses are still coming in and it’s really important that we carefully watch and consider that information as it comes in and that we respond to it appropriately.”
Massachusetts’ move brings forward the question of whether other states will announce similar decisions as more vaping-related illnesses and deaths are confirmed every week.
“We’re obviously very concerned about this situation, and the epidemic we’re seeing,” said Kristen Maki, a spokesperson at the Washington State Department of Health. “But we are too early in the investigation to know which policy might best prevent this illness because, in part, among the cases that have been reported, we have not identified a product that is common to all of these cases.” Washington has so far seen six cases of vaping-related illnesses, according to their most recent reports.
At this point, Maki says the Washington State Department of Health is continuing to investigate the cases, collect the products to send to FDA, and actively discussing policies to address the situation. “We know the governor is very concerned and he has asked us to bring to him policy options,” she continued.
Mark Pettinger, spokesperson for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s (OLCC), which oversees cannabis, told Cannabis Wire that they are waiting for conclusive guidance from investigators before moving forward.
“The key aspect of this is that scientists do not have causation yet” related to the vaping illnesses, Pettinger said. “The Oregon Health Authority is just trying to get to the bottom of this, and what we’ve indicated is that if the scientists are able to provide some conclusive guidance, we will act very quickly.”
“If they say it’s a particular additive that is contained in nicotine or THC products then we will move to take action, which would include a potential exclusion of that additive. If they make a conclusion that it is an allergic reaction to the components of the vaping device, or contaminants, then we would take a look at that,” Pettinger continued.
Pettinger says the state has asked its licensees for voluntary steps to ensure safety, such as reviewing their vaping products for additives to make sure they are “above board,” asking for more information from their suppliers, and putting up consumer advisory bulletins in their retail locations based on guidance from the CDC.
Alex Traverso, spokesperson at California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, referred Cannabis Wire to a health advisory released by the California Department of Public Health. The announcement by the CDPH urged “everyone to refrain from vaping, no matter the substance of source, until current investigations are complete.”
So far, California has reported 90 cases of hospitalization among those with “a history of vaping” and two deaths related to the unidentified illnesses. “Although CDPH regulates manufacturers of cannabis vaping products to ensure they are as safe as possible for those who choose to vape, CDPH warns that all individuals put themselves at risk any time they inhale a foreign substance into their lungs,” the announcement stated.
California’s governor has also signed an executive order last week directing the CDPH to launch a $20 million statewide public awareness campaign to “educate youth, young adults and parents about the health risks associated with vaping nicotine and cannabis products.”
Cannabis Wire has reached out to additional cannabis regulatory bodies and will update the piece with new responses.