Vaping Deaths, Illnesses Leads to Massachusetts Ban

By Caitlin Smith ’21

In September alone, there were nine reported deaths linked to vaping and 530 cases of vaping-related illness in the United States, ranging from mild respiratory problems to visits to the intensive care unit. On September 24, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker responded to this string of deaths and illness by declaring a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products. According to the Boston Globe, this ban applies to both tobacco and marijuana electronic cigarettes and will be in effect until January 25, 2020. Massachusetts is not the only place taking action to prevent vaping, as San Francisco ended the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in June, followed by New York, Rhode Island, and Michigan. 

Vape devices have been proven to help adult smokers quit smoking, but teens and young adults who vape are more likely to smoke regular cigarettes than non-vaping peers. Ms. Baudis, the head of the Winsor Wellness Department, is worried by “the negative impact of nicotine on brain development” of young people. Juul, a San Francisco-based company that sells that most popular vaping device on the market, offers vape liquid or “e-juice” made from nicotine salts that may contain a higher concentration of nicotine, providing a more addictive experience than regular cigarettes. With over 7000 vaping flavors available worldwide, vaping is particularly enticing to teenagers. The danger is that each flavor comes with its own chemical profile, and “all of these chemicals have been tested in food for consumption but not for inhaling,” explains Charlotte Grieve of the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2018, researchers from Yale and Duke universities found that flavorants become “chemically unstable when heated, forming new chemicals that irritate the airways and may have toxic effects.” Additional substances that are harmful when inhaled may also be added to vapes; vitamin E acetate, for example, has been found in excess in some marijuana vaping products and contributed to the illness that many people across the country are experiencing. 

What makes the vaping epidemic so dangerous is that hospitals don’t yet have a standardized way of diagnosing and categorizing patients. For this reason, the CDC can’t accurately track the occurrence and frequency of the disease. According to the National Youth Tobacco Study, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes, but research on the effects of vaping is limited. Ms. Baudis believes “the public health sector needs to do a better job in educating the dangers of vaping…[because] it needs to be clear that youth have been tricked into using this product.”

Governor Baker hopes his ban will give officials some time to find the root causes of the vaping problem and determine possible regulatory solutions to deal with it, but his order has faced significant backlash. One vape store owner, Behram Agha, filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, arguing that the ban was “enacted and enforced without sufficient notice and opportunity” for business owners. Many vape store owners like Agha predict that their businesses will not be able to survive for more than a few weeks. Critics of the ban also point out that the state legislature has failed to address the black market sale of e-cigarettes. Ms. Baudis hopes that state bans “bring awareness to the dangers of vaping [but they don’t] mean kids won’t be able to get [vapes] other ways.” Many Massachusetts customers have even found lawful ways to work around the ban, such as driving to New Hampshire to buy vaping products. Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, a professor of health at the University of California, San Francisco, contends that public health experts “have been opportunistic on seizing on this illness to ban all of these products without giving thought to the broader implications.” On the federal level, the New York Times reports that President Trump plans to remove most e-cigarettes and nicotine pods from the market as soon as possible, but only time will tell if this government intervention is effective.