The Baker administration got the OK from the state Public Health Council on Friday to continue the emergency ban on the sale of vaping products the governor put in place on Sept. 24. That was the day Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency, as the fatalities and illnesses from vaping mounted across the country. 

At last count, there have been 47 vaping-related lung injuries, including one death, in Massachusetts since this crisis was recognized. Nationwide, at least 1,400 vaping-related lung injury cases have been reported, with 33 deaths. Baker’s ban on the sale of vaping products in the Bay State jolted the industry and angered many people who vape; challenges in court followed the ban, which a Superior Court judge ruled last week could be kept in place, with some modifications.

The anger over Baker’s abrupt decision is justified, since many people have switched from cigarettes to vaping in an effort to break the nicotine habit. And businesses that rely on the revenue they receive from selling vaping supplies have had to adjust, either taking the financial hit or focusing more on the sale of other items during the ban. 

In the end, the governor’s decision was made in response to a public health emergency, a growing number of people becoming sick from vaping, with no explanation and no ready treatment. This was not a back-door effort to cripple a perfectly legal market, but an urgent response to a crisis, one which is national in scope. 

The temporary ban has brought more attention to the growing problem of vaping, especially among teenagers. A forum held Oct. 21 at the Nock/Molin School auditorium in Newburyport on the health affects of vaping raised the level of concern. One of the speakers, Cynthia Grondin, a vaping expert and research scientist at North Carolina State University, discussed the health effects of products such as Juul pods and vaporizers and pointed out the high level of addictive nicotine people are inhaling when they vape. 

A single Juul pod contains 59 milligrams of nicotine, the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes, Grondin said. 

Cathy Riccio, a nurse and supervisor of health services for Newburyport’s schools, told the crowd she believes more needs to be done to educate youth people about the risks. 

“These kids are getting hooked,” she said. “They don’t know the degree of severity.”

The vaping forum was aimed at giving parents and guardians the chance to hear from experts about the effects of vaping nicotine and other substances, and to hear what resources are available in the community to address the problem. 

This forum would have happened regardless of Baker’s ban on the sale of vaping supplies, but the timing is good, since there’s increased focus on vaping. Many school systems saw the rise of vaping coming, with students caught vaping in the bathrooms, an echo of “smoking in the boys’ room” from the era of ubiquitous cigarette use.

It’s important to keep in mind that the governor’s ban came because people were developing serious lung problems, and some were dying –  not because of concerns over the spread of addictive nicotine use through this new “delivery” mechanism, the e-cigarette.

After the Superior Court judge ruled the ban could remain in effect, even though Baker failed to follow required procedures when he enacted the measure, the governor said he knew this issue would be in court.

“We always said that we knew the courts were probably going to be part of this process,”  Baker said. “But for us the public health issues associated with this outweighed the negative consequences, which are real.”

Odds are the ban will be lifted, especially if the source of the lung ailments is clearly identified. But either way, now is the time to seriously address the problems that have arisen as many teenagers have latched on to this new smoking trend.

 

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