Mass. DPH: 6 probable vaping lung illnesses linked to regulated pot dispensaries

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BOSTON — Six Massachusetts residents with probable vaping-related lung illnesses have said they used products purchased from state-licensed marijuana dispensaries, according to information released by the state.

It is the first time the Department of Public Health has linked illnesses to vaping products bought at dispensaries.The state has flagged 90 probable and confirmed cases of such illnesses. Three of those people have died. Forty-nine have been interviewed by state officials.

The department did not say what products were linked to the six cases, or where they were purchased, but it did recommend avoiding the use of all vaping products until more is known about the cause or causes of the illnesses.The DPH said it cannot make "specific claims about the role of any individual product" and that it cannot independently verify the products and sources that patients report in interviews with public health officials.The report was released days before Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's administration is set to lift a statewide ban on the sale of vaping products that started in September.

The Cannabis Control Commission has imposed a separate moratorium on marijuana vape sales.

David O'Brien, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, told The Boston Globe that the state should immediately disclose which licensed operators potentially were implicated in the six cases linked to regulated products.

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"The industry wants to know if there's cause for alarm so we can address it," O'Brien said.This week, Baker expressed some surprise that other states did not follow his lead amid the outbreak of illnesses.

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After Baker spoke Thursday at the Pri-Med East conference in Boston, the moderator, Dr. Frank Domino from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, thanked the governor for his "fantastic" work to address vaping and said it was appreciated widely in the medical community. The audience gave the governor a hearty round of applause.

"I really appreciate your bringing this one up," Baker said. "I've taken a fair amount of grief for this, and we've been in a different place than a lot of other places around the country, which, I actually don't understand. I don't think we're in the wrong place."

Baker's ban, challenged and weakened in court, was set to lift Dec. 24, but he announced last week that it instead will  expire Wednesday, as new vaping regulations are put into place by the state Public Health Council.

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Though other states have banned the sale of flavored vaping products, Massachusetts went further, to ban all vaping products, though the order was weakened by the courts as it related to medical marijuana patients. Baker said Thursday morning that he doesn't get why other states haven't adopted the Massachusetts model.

"I continue to not understand why that hasn't been pursued more significantly at either the federal level or in other states," he said. "I mean, there's a story on the front page of The Boston Globe today that says what we've done here in Massachusetts is driving a lot of the sales of these products into contiguous states around us, and I don't see how that is good for anybody."

The governor said at the Pri-Med conference that he asked Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to bring in a group of doctors and researchers to talk about the rash of illnesses and injuries in September."They all basically said the same thing, which is that vaping, by its very nature, has risks associated with it that are not fully understood," he said."We were operating on a pretty solid foundation of input, guidance and expertise that came from a lot of the folks here in the commonwealth who just said there are some really big issues with this just generally that aren't appreciated or understood and may not be for a while, which is why we made the decision we made."Domino told Baker that "as a clinician, it was brave to do what you did and ... it took guts to do what you did."

On Thursday night, the Department of Public Health posted its data to its website indicating that six patients with probable cases of vaping-associated lung injury reported vaping THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, and having purchased the THC at a licensed Massachusetts marijuana retailer. An additional 22 patients, including 10 confirmed cases, reported vaping THC not purchased at a licensed retailer.On Friday, the Supreme Judicial Court announced that it has stayed all action in a challenge to Baker's ban, and has indefinitely postponed oral arguments scheduled for Monday because "the defendants assert that the emergency regulations that are at issue in this case will be rescinded, and the emergency declared by the Governor will be terminated, as will the Commissioner's emergency order," if the Public Health Council adopts the new regulations Wednesday, as is expected.


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