Washington joins several other states in flavored vaping ban

Washington state is joining several other states in banning the sale of flavored vaping products amid concern over the mysterious lung illness that has sickened hundreds of people and killed more than a dozen across the country.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order Friday asking the Department of Health to issue the emergency rule at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 9.

The ban will apply to products containing nicotine as well as the cannabis extract THC. Inslee said the flavored products especially appeal to youth.

“Flavors exist for one reason and one reason only – and that is to make them more appealing to young children,” Inslee said.

“The FDA does not know and review the contents of what’s in the liquids. Anything can be included in the mix. It’s the wild west and that’s one reason we’re having a health crisis,” he said.

The ban first needs to be approved by the state health board on October 9, and is expected to take effect the next day.

“They’re not even giving us a chance to sell out of what we have,” said Margo Ross, who owns Cloud 509 in Moses Lake.

She and other vape shop owners across Washington state say the ban will force them to close. The executive action on Friday brought her to tears.

“Everybody looks at the side of the children. And I’m a mother. I understand that side,” she said. “I only sell to people who are over 18. I don’t do this to make money, I don’t do because I am hooking children. I do this because I help people,” Ross said.

But she said adults almost exclusively vape flavors too. And the ban means she will have to close her store in Moses Lake.

“I will have to put my LLC in bankruptcy. I will not be able to afford the bills I have,” Ross said.

The owner of Ausum Vapor in Ballard (also called O Vapor) has six shops across the Puget Sound. He said 99 percent of his e-juice sales are flavors, and the ban means he will start closing his stores on Monday – and will be forced to lay off his 25 employees.

The order for the ban comes after a new tax that charges $.09 cents per milliliter of product – something Ross said already forced her to close her other store.

The governor on Friday was joined by John Wiesman, secretary of the Washington State Department of Health, Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, legislators and other state and local leaders.

On Tuesday, the governor of Massachusetts declared a public health emergency and ordered a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products in the state — apparently the first action of its kind in the nation. The ban, though temporary, is broader than moves in at least two states, Michigan and New York, to ban only vape flavors.

Hundreds of Americans have been reported to have a vaping-related breathing illness, and the death toll has risen to 13, health officials said Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, up 52% from the 530 reported a week ago. At this point, illnesses have occurred in almost every state.

The confirmed deaths include two in California, two in Kansas, two in Oregon and one each in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Missouri. The Mississippi death was announced by officials in that state Thursday and the second Oregon death was revealed by authorities later in the day.

Over the summer, health officials in a few states began noticing reports of people developing severe breathing illnesses, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. The only common factor in the illnesses was that the patients had all recently vaped.

As a national investigation started and broadened, reports have increased dramatically.

It’s not clear how many of the 275 added cases occurred in the last week, and how many are being logged long after they happened. The CDC has not released details on when symptoms began in each case.

The agency’s count includes only illnesses that have met certain criteria. Other illnesses are also being investigated.

Most patients have said they vaped products containing THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. The investigation has been increasingly focused on products containing THC, with some attention on ingredients added to marijuana oil.

But some patients have said they vaped only nicotine. Currently, health officials are advising people not to use any vaping product until the cause is better understood.