Our Opinion: Baker's vaping ban is one-size-fits-all
Gov. Charlie Baker, who is known for his cautious, one step at a time approach to the issues of the day, was uncharacteristically bold Tuesday in proclaiming a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products. Vaping has undeniably become a problem in the state but not all kinds of vaping are equal. The governor's decision essentially treats them as if they are.
The ban, which took effect immediately and goes through Jan. 25 but could be extended, applies to both tobacco and marijuana products and both online and retail sales. Earlier this month, California and Michigan banned flavored e-cigarettes and Rhode Island did the same on Wednesday. The governor's outright ban on vaping products caught retail stores by surprise and dismayed the thriving new marijuana sales industry.
Massachusetts has had 61 cases of vaping illness, according to state officials, who didn't provide a time frame Tuesday for the appearance of those cases. The governor, who was accompanied by doctors and medical professionals at his press conference announcing the ban, said the four-month period will give medical professionals and officials time to investigate the spike in illnesses and propose solutions.
It's not clear, however, why the governor believed it necessary to go beyond the ban on flavored e-cigarettes taken by other states. Vaping was originally billed as a way to help people quit smoking, but it didn't take long for the cigarette industry, always looking for ways to addict new customers, to introduce e-cigarettes in a variety of candy and fruit flavors targeted specifically to the young. Doctors have warned that smoking the flavored e-cigarettes can lead not only to addiction but to permanently damaged young lungs.
Retailers in Massachusetts who have been waiting on state lawmakers to act on legislation banning flavored cigarettes, which if passed would presumably give retailers an adjustment period, had to scramble to clear their store shelves of all vaping products. The cannabis industry fears that the ban will cut into their sales significantly even though their vaping products are not flavored or designed for children. Shaleen Title, a member of the state Cannabis Control Commission, said in the Boston Globe that the ban would push people back into the illicit market, where they would be subjected to black market vaping products containing impurities that the medical community says is a source of vaping illnesses. The ban "is dangerous, shortsighted and undermines the benefits of legal regulation," she added.
We agree with David O'Brien, the president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, that the administration should quickly investigate the vaping of legalized marijuana, which he maintains is not linked to any vaping illnesses. If if is indeed cleared, that ban on it should be lifted as soon as possible.
In fairness to Massachusetts and other states scrambling for answers and solutions to vaping programs, the Federal Drug Administration, which gained the authority to regulate vaping in 2016, has not acted, even following President Trump's recent call for a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. A spokesman told the Globe that the agency is "working tirelessly" on the issue.
The governor's vaping ban is sure to cause harm for retailers and the legal marijuana industry, harm we hope can be kept to a minimum. The ban could also offer insights into the dangers of some forms of vaping, particularly products targeted at the young, and offer solutions for ending their cynical exploitation by an endlessly cruel and resourceful industry.
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