Some doubt value of Massachusetts’s vaping ban

  • In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 file photo, a man exhales a puff of smoke from a vape pipe at a shop in Richmond, Va. During a Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 congressional subcommittee hearing, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said she believes “hundreds more” cases have been reported to health authorities since the previous week. The CDC then put the tally at 530 confirmed and probable cases of the serious lung illnesses. Nine deaths have been reported. ASSOCIATED PRESS/Steve Helber

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2019 11:46:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Jamie Palank, 35, was vaping in downtown Northampton on Tuesday evening when she learned that Gov. Charlie Baker had issued an immediate four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products in the state.

“Shocking,” Palank said, adding that the move could send people looking for vapes on the black market. “I think it’s definitely going overboard.”

Baker’s declaration of a public health emergency and a vaping ban drew support from some, including the unanimous approval of the state’s Public Health Council and public health advocates who spoke before the body.

But others have expressed skepticism about the efficacy of the ban and whether it will push people to buy nicotine or cannabis vaping products on the black market.

“This is a terrible decision,” Shaleen Title, one of the members of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, wrote on Twitter. “Purposely pushing people into the illicit market — precisely where the dangerous products are — goes against every principle of public health and harm reduction. It is dangerous, short-sighted, and undermines the benefits of legal regulation.”

That sentiment was shared by businesses that sell vaping products in the Pioneer Valley.

“It makes me really concerned about black-market use and sketchy unregulated vaping,” said Kim Hull, the manager at Exscape Smoke Shop in Amherst.

Hull said that the decision wouldn’t affect Exscape Smoke Shop’s business; the company’s best-selling items are glass pipes, not vapes, Hull said.

“That being said, it’s definitely an inconvenience,” Hull said.

‘Big business concern’

The ban is more than just an inconvenience for local marijuana dispensaries, which make a large portion of their profits from vape products.

Mark Zatyrka, the CEO of the Easthampton dispensary Insa, said the ban is “a big business concern.” Vaping products are the second-largest selling category that Insa offers after flower, he said.

“I was most concerned for our patients that rely on those products,” Zatyrka said. “My other worry is that people would be pushed back to the black market, which is really where the worst products are.”

Zatyrka said it is important that experts figure out what ingredients are making people sick when they vape, and that people should know what ingredients are in their products.

The Cannabis Control Commission has no regulations on the additives that regulated marijuana dispensaries can use in their vape cartridges. Recently, the CCC voted to require dispensaries to list all additives to vaping products, including thickening agents and terpenes.

Some public health advocates have voiced concern about the lack of regulations on marijuana vaping products in the state.

Some companies, including Northampton’s New England Treatment Access dispensary, use the food additive propylene glycol in some of their products, which researchers have found damages the lungs.

Insa adds “naturally derived, food-grade” terpenes made by the company Abstrax Tech to its products, according to a statement to its customers.

In a statement, NETA President Amanda Rositano said the company will comply with the governor’s order and understands his concern. Like Zatyrka, Rositano focused on “illicit markets” in her statement, saying that’s where “contaminated products” are most commonly found.

“We believe this issue underscores the importance of a legal and licensed cannabis market, where all ingredients are required to be listed and products must pass rigorous testing procedures,” Rositano said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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