Judge hears arguments over ban on flavored vaping products

October 31, 2019

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A judge is hearing arguments over Gov. Steve Bullock’s temporary ban on the sale of flavored vaping products over increased teen use and a nationwide outbreak of lung injury and deaths.

An anti-tobacco advocate said Wednesday the ban fails to address the apparent cause of the lung disease, vaping THC, while a pediatrician said it’s needed to prevent another generation from becoming addicted to nicotine.

The hearing before District Judge Jennifer Lint continues Friday in Hamilton with testimony from two more state witnesses.

The Democratic governor announced the ban on Oct. 8 and said it would take effect on Oct. 22, but vaping store owners and the Montana Smoke Free Association challenged the 120-day ban. They argued it would force them to lay off employees and put them out of business. Lint stopped the ban from taking effect until she holds a hearing.

On Wednesday, Boston University community health professor Michael Siegel said research indicates the lung disease appears to be linked to the vaping of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, not nicotine.

“I think what’s happened with many health departments, especially on the state level, is that they are conflating the problem (of) youth vaping with this respiratory illness,” said Siegel, a long-time anti-tobacco advocate. “I think they are two separate problems, but by conflating them, it’s misleading people in the public to think that e-cigarettes are causing the outbreak, not THC.”

“In order to curtail the outbreak, we need to stop youth from vaping THC,” he said.

Since the pulmonary illness appears to be something new, Siegel said it’s unlikely that it would be caused by vaping products that have been available for years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1,888 cases of lung injury and 37 deaths nationwide, with most patients reporting a history of using vaping products containing THC. Montana has one reported death. The CDC recommends not using vaping products that contain THC and not buying any vaping products off the street. However, because the compound or ingredient that causes the lung injury is not known, the only way to assure you’re not at risk is to refrain from using all vaping products, the agency says.

Pediatrician Lauren Wilson of Missoula testified the ban on flavored vaping liquid is needed to help prevent teens from becoming addicted to nicotine as their brains are still developing. She argued the flavored juices, like Slamming Watermelon and Strawberry Rolls, drive teens to try vaping. The long-term health effects are unknown, she said.

Deanna Marshall of Freedom Vapes in Hamilton said nearly all of their customers are former smokers and 75% of them buy flavored vaping products.

“We don’t have people coming in here wanting to start vaping,” she said.

Other store owners said they have strict policies to prevent sales to minors. They don’t sell THC-laced products, they said.

Jeff Lloyd, a school resource officer from Missoula, said most of the vaping products they find in schools are the smaller pod type commonly sold at convenience stores, rather than the liquid sold at vape shops.