Maryland officials are considering adopting restrictions on e-cigarettes as the number of vaping-related lung illness cases continue to rise.
Del. Dereck Davis is drafting a bill that would ban flavored vaping products that are favored by young people. He’s concerned that flavors like fruit, candy and menthol are drawing younger people to use products that they may not realize are harmful to their health.
“I’m told that it has a harsh taste and it irritates the back of the throat and if you go with these flavors, it’s not as difficult,” said Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee.
Davis sponsored a law that went into effect Oct. 1 that raises the age for using tobacco and nicotine products to 21. He sees the flavored vaping ban as a natural extension.
“There’s this whole misinformation out there that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking,” he said. “As we’re seeing with these national cases, it’s not.”
Through mid-October, federal health officials have identified nearly 1,500 lung injuries and 33 deaths associated with the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. People have fallen ill in every state except Alaska, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC is investigating whether the culprit may be vaping products that contain THC, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
Davis said he was inspired to draft legislation after learning about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency order in September that banned flavored vaping products. The order has been put on hold pending a legal challenge, and some Michigan lawmakers have also pushed back.
Other states have sought temporary bans on all types of e-cigarettes and vaping products, which have generally been met by court challenges.
President Donald Trump’s administration, meanwhile, has taken steps toward issuing rules banning e-cigarettes through the Food and Drug Administration.
Juul, a major manufacturer of e-cigarettes, said this month it would voluntarily suspend sales of mango, creme, fruit and cucumber flavored products while the FDA rule is under review. The company still sells nicotine pods in mint, menthol and tobacco flavors.
Banning flavored e-cigarettes has the support of advocacy groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “One of our big priorities now is getting rid of all of the flavored products out there,” said John Schachter, a spokesman. “It’s obviously what kids are attracted to on the e-cigarette front.”
Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vaping Technology Association, said in a statement that the industry wants to restrict youth access to vaping products, but not at the expense of limiting availability to adults.
“We stand ready to continue working with the State of Maryland on effective regulations and real solutions that will achieve the twin goals of restricting youth vaping, which is already illegal, and preserving flavored vapor as an alternative for adult consumers desperately trying to quit smoking,” Abboud said.
The American Vaping Association has called vaping sales bans “senseless” measures that will result in the loss of jobs.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration is exploring what options it could take in light of the emerging health crisis associated with vaping.
“The vaping problem is a serious and deadly one,” said Hogan’s health secretary, Robert Neall. “I know there will be a lot of legislative ideas when we get to Annapolis in January.”
Neall said he wants to make sure that whatever actions the state takes are legally sound and avoid the court challenges elsewhere. “We’ve got to do this the right way, because we want to prevail and succeed on this,” he said. “
The state’s health department issued an order to doctors requiring them to report severe lung illnesses that may be linked to vaping. Through mid-October, 35 cases have been reported to the state.