A Maine state senator said she will introduce a bill that would ban the sale of vaping products in the state until the Food and Drug Administration determines they are safe to use.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency, and on Tuesday announced a four-month moratorium on the sale of vaping products. Rhode Island on Wednesday banned the sale of flavored vape products, and Trump administration officials also have said a federal ban on flavored vaping products may be forthcoming.

State Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, said that not enough research has been conducted on e-cigarettes to know how dangerous the products can be, especially for long-term users. More than 500 people have been sickened across the United States with mysterious illnesses related to vaping, federal health officials said last week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that research on the cases – which include at least nine deaths – is ongoing, but that scientists have not pinpointed what is causing the illnesses, except to conclude it was likely a “chemical exposure” from vaping use. Many have required hospitalization, and symptoms include shortness of breath, violent coughing, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and sudden weight loss.

Since the CDC’s Sept. 19 update, hundreds more cases have been reported, federal officials have said.

“Absolutely, this is a public health crisis,” Millett said in an interview with the Press Herald. “We can’t wait two to three more years for the FDA to get its act together. There hasn’t been much research, but the research we have seen has not been positive for the safety of e-cigarettes.”

Millett’s bill has not yet been written, but she expects to submit it later this year for the January session. In the most recent legislative session, Millett sponsored a bill that banned vape products on school properties statewide. That law took effect last week.

The Maine CDC on Friday reported the state’s first vaping case, of “acute lung illness related to the use of e-cigarettes.”

Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, did not weigh in on Millett’s upcoming bill, but said there may be executive action.

“Governor Mills has requested the Maine Centers for Disease Control to explore all options to curb the use of e-cigarette products, to the extent necessary to protect the health and well-being of Maine people, especially our youth,” Crete said in a statement.

But Garrett Chapman, regional manager for Empire Vape Shop, which has four locations in Maine, including Portland, said that from what he’s seen the illnesses are caused by “black market” products with unregulated ingredients, not ones sold in vape shops. He said cigarettes, which are legal, are far more dangerous to public health than vaping.

“Prohibition doesn’t work,” Chapman said. “It is going to create a huge black market for low-quality products,” Chapman said. “Vape shops are under such scrutiny that we play by the rules more than anyone else.” He said he believes there are roughly 100 vape shops in Maine.

Chapman said a state ban won’t stop online sales, and many of the online products are black market.

Vaping has continued to grow in popularity, especially among young people. In 2018, about 21 percent of high school seniors had vaped in the previous 30 days, according to a survey commissioned by the National Institutes of Health, up from 11 percent in 2017.

The products are often sold in flavors, such as cinnamon, vanilla, buttered popcorn and fruit flavors that critics say are geared toward marketing to minors or young adults. Juul, the largest manufacturer of vaping products in the United States, announced Wednesday that it would no longer sell flavored products, as the Trump administration was weighing a ban on such products.

Federal law does require warning labels on vaping products, and in Maine you have to be at least age 21 to purchase them.

Millett said vaping products were originally marketed entirely as a tobacco cessation product. If the FDA determines that they are effective in tobacco cessation, then they should only be available with a doctor’s prescription to help people quit smoking, she said.

The FDA has not concluded whether vaping products are an effective tool for people to quit smoking.

Millett said she would also look at whether there’s a safety issue with THC – the psychoactive compound in marijuana – in vaping products. The only place where vaping with THC as an active ingredient is legal in Maine is a medical marijuana dispensary, Chapman said.

Millett’s proposal – as it stands in its early stages – would not affect THC vaping products sold at medical marijuana dispensaries.

The U.S. CDC, in its Sept. 19 update, reported that “most patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC. Many patients have reported using THC and nicotine. Some have reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.”

Erika Ziller, assistant professor of public health at the University of Southern Maine, said vaping products went on the market before the research on their safety had been completed.

“The problem is we are really in the dark. We don’t know enough about what impact e-cigarettes are having on public health,” Ziller said. Another problem is the chemicals used to heat the liquid that is then vaped differ depending on what product is used, she said. “If people get sick after a picnic, we can trace it to the potato salad. We can’t do that with vaping products because they are not consistent.”

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, vaping products can include volatile organic compounds, diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease) and heavy metals.

An oil derived from Vitamin E – called Vitamin E acetate – was discovered in cannabis vaping products from patients who fell ill in New York City, New York state health officials said this week.

The FDA instituted tougher regulations for vaping products in 2016. Currently, the federal agency is proposing stricter vaping regulations, but it’s not known how long it will take for new regulations to take effect, or exactly how strong they will be. The FDA said, without releasing a timetable, that “ultimately” all vaping products “on the market will only receive authorization after undergoing a thorough scientific review.”

Millett said until then states must act, but she hopes the Trump administration will take an even tougher stand so that everyone in the nation can be protected.

She said recent studies, including a 2019 study at Harvard University, point to growing health concerns. The Harvard study found that traces of toxins in vaping products “have been associated with myriad health problems in humans, including asthma, reduced lung function and inflammation.”

 

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