By John Lynds
At neighborhood smoke shops hundreds of e-cigarettes, vape devices, tobacco juices and vape related products are sold each day.
Long touted as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, vaping has become the fad for former smokers and those who never even touched a cigarette for the past decade.
Vaping has also become the preferred method for cannabis consumption in the age of legalized marijuana in the state and both medicinal and recreational pot shop stock their shelves with THC infused vaping oils.
However, a recent outbreak in vape-related lung diseases and deaths have state’s and the federal government scrambling to figure out what exactly is going on with devices that promised to deliver nicotine and THC in a safe manner.
Last week Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency in response to confirmed and suspected cases of severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products in the state. The Governor called for a temporary four-month statewide ban on the sale of flavored and non-flavored vaping products in both retail stores and online. The sales ban applies to all vaping products and devices, including tobacco and marijuana.
The ban takes effect immediately and lasts through January 25, 2020.
“The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people,” said Governor Baker. “The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents.”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed as of last week there are 805 lung injury cases reported from 46 states and one U.S. territory related to vaping or vape products with 12 deaths confirmed in 10 states.
The CDC has also received sex and age data on 771 patients. About 69 percent of patients are male. Nearly two thirds (62 percent) of patients are 18 to 34 years old; with 22 percent of patients between 18-21; and 16 percent of patients are under 18 years.
All reported patients have a history of e-cigarette product use or vaping.
The latest findings from the investigation into lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, suggest products containing THC play a role in the outbreak. CDC has received data on substances used in e-cigarettes or vaping products in the 30 days prior to symptom onset among 514 patients and about 77 percent reported using THC-containing products; 36 percent reported exclusive use of THC-containing products; about 57 percent reported using nicotine-containing products; and 16 percent reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
However, the CDC said specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.
“No single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases and more information is needed to know whether one or more e-cigarette or vaping products, substances, or brand is responsible for the outbreak,” the CDC said in a statement.
Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) mandated that Massachusetts physicians immediately report any unexplained vaping-associated pulmonary disease to the department. As of today, 61 cases have been reported to DPH. Three confirmed cases and two probable cases of vaping-associated pulmonary disease in the state have already been reported to the CDC. The rest are pending further clinical analysis.
Vaping consists of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol (often called vapor) produced by an e-cigarette or similar battery-powered device. E-cigarettes come in many different sizes, types and colors. Some resemble pens, small electronic devices such as USB sticks and other everyday items. The products are often compact and allow for discreet carrying and use – at home, in school hallways and bathrooms and even in classrooms.
Two weeks ago the Baker Administration convened a group of pulmonary doctors and pediatric experts from Massachusetts to share what they have seen in their patients—especially youth—and their concerns about the trajectory of vaping related lung disease. The experts shared concerning information about the rapid rate of addiction to e-cigarettes, use and overuse of marijuana vaping products and cases of youth becoming hospitalized within two weeks of using vaping related products.
Baker said during the temporary ban his Administration will work with medical experts, state and federal officials to better understand vaping illnesses and work on additional steps to address this public health crisis. This could include legislation and regulations. The Administration will also work on providing more resources for a public awareness campaign and smoking cessation programs.
“Vaping is a public health crisis and it is imperative that we understand its impact at both the individual and overall health care system level,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “As a result of the public health emergency, the Commonwealth is implementing a statewide standing order for nicotine replacement products like gum and patches, which will allow people to access these products as a covered benefit through their insurance without requiring an individual prescription, similar to what our Administration did to increase access to naloxone.”