Washington’s emergency ban on flavored vape products expired Feb. 7, and some Bellingham residents say the ban didn’t make sense in the first place.
On Sept. 27, 2019, Gov. Jay Inslee issued Executive Order 19-03, “addressing the vaping use public health crisis,” according to the official Washington State Board of Health’s website.
“The governor issued an executive order that requested the state board of health use its emergency rule-making authority to impose a ban on all flavored vapor products,” Kelie Kahler, communication manager for the Washington State Board of Health, said.
The Washington State Board of Health adopted the emergency ban on Oct. 9, 2019, which expired Feb. 7. According to the executive order, it also required retailers to display a warning about the risk of lung disease from vapor products, and required health care providers to report cases of lung injury associated with their use.
According to the executive order, Gov. Inslee was concerned about the possible health risks of vape flavoring, since flavored vape products appeal to youth and have led to higher use.
The executive order states that preliminary results from a survey found more than a quarter of high school students use vapor products and most use fruit, menthol or mint flavors. The order said that over 800 cases of vaping-related lung injury have been reported nationwide and the causes were unknown.
“As of right now, the board will not consider extending that emergency rule,” Kahler said. “Partly the reason is because the CDC announced the national outbreak of vaping-associated lung injuries has waned. The outbreak appears to be linked most closely with THC-containing vapor products.”
Another emergency ban on the ingredient vitamin E acetate is in place until March, which is found to be the ingredient most closely linked to lung injury. Vitamin E acetate is an additive in THC-containing vapor products, according to the Washington State Department of Health website.
Derek Noone, a 24-year-old Bellingham resident who vapes, disagreed with the flavored vape ban.
Noone said he started vaping around 2013 to quit chewing tobacco, which he used for around two years. He said after making the switch, he never looked back. Noone said he noticed a health improvement since switching.
“In terms of physical effects, my gum line stopped receding,” Noone said. “Now that it’s been so long, it’s coming back.”
Noone uses a vaping device with about 0.03 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid.
According to UFL.edu, a can of chewing tobacco contains 88 mg of nicotine. Noone used three cans per week, which would put his nicotine usage at 264 mg per week.
A study of vape product users by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that these surveyed users consumed an average of 19.50 mL e-liquid per week with an average nicotine concentration of 10 mg/mL. For example, using 19.50 mL per week would put Noone's nicotine consumption at 0.585 mg per week. It would put the average user, according to the study, at 195 mg per week.
According to the official Washington State Department of Health “Vaping Associated Lung Injury” page, THC-containing vapor products are linked to most patients with vaping-associated lung injury. Especially those supplied by informal sources such as friends, family and in-person.
13% of patients nationally and half of patients in Washington don’t report using THC products, and “it is unclear if these patients are not fully disclosing THC use, are being exposed to a substance that is also in THC products, or have lung injury unrelated to vaping,” according to the website.
Julie Graham, communications consultant for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, explained her understanding of the vitamin E acetate ban.
“Through health research on the people who became ill and the products that they were able to test, the vitamin E acetate has been linked to the outbreak and therefore the health officials recommended keeping that particular product banned,” Graham said. "So the liquor and cannabis control board did take a vote to maintain that ban.”
She said it was best to refer to the department of health regarding the health aspects of severe vaping illness.
From Noone's perspective, the problem with the flavored vape ban was that the basis of the ban was injury, which came from ingredients in illegal THC cartridges supplied from unknown places rather than vapor products sold in stores.
Noone said people will vape whether or not there’s a ban and people could get hurt from black market or homemade products.
Walker Nelson, a manager at Total Vape in Bellingham, also disagreed with the flavored vape ban.
Nelson said other than youth vaping, the health concerns cited as the reasoning for the ban weren’t linked to flavored vape products, but rather, vitamin E acetate. He said flavored vape liquid isn’t what’s being used in black market THC cartridges like vitamin E acetate is, so it didn’t make sense to ban flavored liquid.
Nelson said the ban hurt business a bit, but they were able to handle it. He said another issue was not knowing whether another restriction was going to happen down the road. Regulations during the recent ban caused his shop to have to shift their business model and remove, then reintegrate, banned products.
He agreed with having a level of restriction on vape products.
Nelson agreed with restrictions that said flavored vapor products didn't need to be sold in places that don't ID at the door and restrict to 21-and-over, like convenience stores.