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Montana to pull flavored vaping products from stores

Montana to pull flavored vaping products from stores

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced a statewide ban on the sale of flavored vaping products that will take effect Oct. 22. 

The move follows a similar edict from the federal government, but Bullock criticized the feds for slow action on the implementation of the ban.

Montana has had two cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping — one in Yellowstone County, and a second announced Tuesday in Gallatin County. 

Vaping has been linked to severe lung disease in more than 1,000 cases reported in 48 states. Twenty-three people have died. Health officials have long raised concerns about long-term health effects of vaping. 

Bullock highlighted growth in vaping among youth. 

According to the Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 58% of students tried a vaping product, up from about 46% in 2017. More than 8% of students used a vaping product daily, up from about 2% in 2017. 

The trend is erasing gains made against cigarette use. Almost 32% of students smoked a cigarette or used a vaping product; that's fewer than in 2015, but more than in 2017. 

State medical officer Gregory Holzman said that the long-term effects of vaping are unknown, especially for youth.

“Basically, we have a generation of guinea pigs,” Holzmann said. 

Montana and federal health officials have recommended against using vape products until more is learned about the illnesses. 

Flavors like grape bubble gum purposefully target kids, Bullock said — “flavors that you would probably find in a shaved ice or snow cone station.”

“It’s fundamentally frightening that our kids are being purposefully exposed to these substances by the vaping industry,” he said. 

Bullock said that stores won't be asked to destroy products. Rather, they will be pulled from shelves for 120 days. He said that the ban will also affect online retailers. 

The move isn't the first by an individual state against flavored vaping products. Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan all have implemented rules limiting the sale of vaping products. 

Montana schools been increasingly vocal about the prevalence of vaping among students. Helena Capitol High School principal Brett Zanto said that the school has had to resort to locking some bathrooms to deter vaping. 

“Many of our bathrooms smell like bubble gum or strawberries,” he said. 

Industry concerns

Matt Culley, a member of the national Vapor Technology Association, said that the ban would likely put vape shops in Montana out of business. 

“There’s no way that they’re going to stay alive over the next four months” without sales of flavored products, he said. “We’re going to see a big, mass amount of them closing.”

Culley sells vape products online, and operates a well-known Youtube channel that advocates for vaping — he says that cigarette smoking gave him cancer, and that vaping helped him kick the cigs. He argued that the ban is a "purely a political move." 

Culley and other vaping advocates have said that adults are getting squeezed by pressure on youth vaping. 

“The governors are using a black market issue to go and ban legal products,” he said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, no one product has been linked to vaping illnesses, but most patients used products containing THC.  

"The outbreak is occurring in the context of a dynamic marketplace for e-cigarette, or vaping, products, which may have a mix of ingredients, complex packaging and supply chains, and include potentially illicit substances," the agency wrote on its website. 

"Users may not know what is in their e-cigarette or e-liquid solutions. Many of the products and substances can be modified by suppliers or users. They can be obtained from stores, online retailers, from informal sources (e.g. friends, family members), or 'off the street.'"

Legislators rejected a ban on flavored vaping products last spring. Democrat Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell's HB 312 was killed in the House Business and Labor Committee. 

Bullock said that the ban, implemented through Department of Health and Human Services emergency rules, is in line with Montana law. 

"I'm confident that we're following the law with emergency rules," Bullock said. "I would love to think that industry would do the responsible thing and not bring action on this, but if they do, we're prepared for that."

New York's ban was temporarily blocked by a state court Thursday only one day before it was supposed to take effect.

The Trump administration announced in mid-September that it would ban most flavored vaping products, but officials have yet to release specifics about the ban.

Multiple news outlets have reported that the vaping industry is likely to fight the ban. However, Juul, a major manufacturer of vaping products, said in late September that it would accept the ban

Culley, who has visited with Montana's congressional delegation about vaping rules, said that he didn't expect the ban to go into effect for at least several months — likely after Montana's proposed ban expires. 


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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.

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