Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products in Massachusetts, according to the State House News Service.
The ban could affect stores on the Island, including convenience stores like Cumberland Farms and XtraMart in Vineyard Haven. Reached Tuesday afternoon, an employee of Island Puff N Pass could be overheard asking manager Kyle Byrne if he would like to speak to The Times, to which he replied, “No comment.” The Main Street store stocks vaping supplies and other smoking paraphernalia.
Cumberland Farms also declined to comment through a spokesman. XtraMart has two copies of the governor’s emergency order hanging in its windows to alert customers to the ban.
Baker made the announcement at a press conference where he said he was declaring a public health emergency in connection with vaping-related lung illnesses, the news service reported.
Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said she was not aware of the recent ban, but said she thinks it could be a positive step. “I know the Department of Public Health is going to have discussions on the topic. Personally, I don’t think [the ban’s] a bad thing,” Valley said. “A lot of schoolkids do it, and come on, they’re kids. They don’t know or understand what the health effects are going to be.”
Recently, the town of Tisbury banned the sale of any flavored vaping product besides menthol in order to deter young people from using it.
Valley said that, although the statewide age for tobacco use is 21, “kids can still get their hands on it.” She said fruit- and candy-flavored vape products are marketed directly toward young people.
Hundreds of cases of the illness have been reported nationwide, and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel has already ordered all cases to be reported to the Department of Public Health for the next year, the news service reported.
“We as a commonwealth need to pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving these life-threatening vaping-related illnesses,” Baker was quoted as saying by State House News Service.
The temporary ban will apply to flavored and nonflavored vaping products in retail stores and online. The ban applies to all vaping products and devices, including tobacco and marijuana, the news service reported. It takes effect immediately, with the Public Health Council planning to approve an order at a 3:30 pm meeting, according to State House News.
In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, suggested that there are more pressing things to declare a public health emergency on before vaping products. “Things to declare a public health emergency on before vape products: guns- 40,000 deaths nationwide, fossil fuels- 200,000 [deaths], actual cigarettes- 480,000 [deaths], vaping- 9 [deaths],” Fernandes wrote in his tweet.
Fernandes said in a written statement to The Times that “without question, vaping causes negative impacts to people’s health, and more research is needed to determine the full extent of its insidious effects.”
He said he is glad Baker is taking the issue seriously, and suggested public health emergencies be declared for guns and fossil fuels.
“I share some concerns that this vape ban may lead users to switch to cigarettes which kill 500,000 Americans each year. Hopefully it won’t happen, but if cigarette sales rise during the ban, it is possible this emergency declaration will have a negative impact on public health,” Fernandes said.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, issued a statement praising the governor’s decision. “With a rapidly growing rate of pulmonary illness and death associated with vaping, and the cause of this disease still a mystery to medical experts, we need to give public health authorities time to find an answer to this outbreak,” Cyr said. “I stand with Governor Baker on his decision to declare a public health emergency to temporarily ban all vaping products. We cannot allow another generation to die prematurely from nicotine addiction. I am ready to do whatever is necessary, and will work with my colleagues in the legislature and the Baker/Polito administration to safeguard public health and save lives.”
In an email to The Times, Sara Dingledy, principal at MVRHS, praised the governor’s action. “I think this is an important step that recognizes what we have all long suspected about vaping. Our kids have been guinea pigs for untested substances,” she wrote. “I am glad the governor took this step. The challenge is that many students acquire vapes and paraphernalia by ordering online. I hope that more nationwide efforts will address this as well.”
Updated to clarify comments from Maura Valley and Byrne, and to provide other comments from community leaders. -Ed.