Pritzker wants statewide ban on flavored e-cigarettes
Gov. J.B. Pritzker voiced support of some state and local leaders’ efforts to outlaw use of flavored vaping juice amid nationwide alarm over teen e-cigarette use. Outlawing flavored vapes may not be the answer.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is the latest politician to endorse a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products.
More politicians are seeking bans just as evidence emerges that black market marijuana juices – not flavored commercial products – may be causing widespread illnesses. Some medical researchers argue that bans will do greater harm to those trying to stop smoking.
The governor “supports the efforts of state lawmakers to outlaw flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products” in Illinois, including proposals filed in the Illinois General Assembly ahead of veto session, Pritzker spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement shared Sept. 16 on the Springfield blog Capitol Fax.
The statement from the governor’s office comes amid nationwide panic over underage use of electronic cigarettes. An estimated 530 people experience serious lung illnesses and eight have died after using vaping devices. The first death linked to an e-cigarette device occurred in Illinois, which along with Wisconsin has seen the highest number of related illnesses.
Public health workers have not said the outbreak was caused by flavored e-cigarettes, or other products legally available at vape shops. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found 84% of those hospitalized in Illinois and Wisconsin reported using e-cigarette devices to consume substances purchased illegally on the black market, while 17% reported using only legal nicotine products intended for the devices.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “a majority” of patients reported vaping THC. Nationwide, U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators have found “vitamin E acetate,” a chemical oil derived from vitamin E, in many of the cases in which users reported vaping THC before falling ill. The contaminant, which can be used to thicken THC oil, has been found in vape cartridges purchased on the black market.
Typically found in foods and cosmetics, vitamin E is generally safe to ingest and apply to skin. Potential health hazards posed by inhaling the additive in its oil form is not as widely understood. Cosmetics industry research has never considered vitamin E acetate safe for inhalation, according to Leafly, a cannabis information resource.
Investigators have so far connected one death to a vape pen purchased at a legal marijuana dispensary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet identified a specific cause of the outbreak.
The governor’s support for a flavored vape ban comes following a bill filed Sept. 13 in the Illinois House of Representatives that would create the Flavored Tobacco Ban Act, which would prohibit the sale of both flavored tobacco and alternative nicotine products statewide. Stores that violate the ban would risk losing their retailer’s license.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also called for a citywide ban on flavored e-cigarettes, while Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, announced he’d fight for “all-out ban” on e-cigarettes and all related accessories, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine.
On Sept. 4, Michigan became the first state in the nation to ban the sale of flavored vape products, and retail giant Walmart announced Sept. 20 its stores would stop carrying e-cigarettes altogether.
The FDA has not indicated the retail purchase of e-cigarette products risks fatal respiratory illnesses, but cautioned users against purchasing vaping products on the black market. In a Sept. 6 statement, the agency said: “Because consumers cannot be sure whether any THC vaping products may contain Vitamin E acetate, consumers are urged to avoid buying vaping products on the street, and to refrain from using THC oil or modifying/adding any substances to products purchased in stores.”
Some research suggests political leaders seeking to improve public health by banning vaping could achieve the opposite. A recent study from University College London found tobacco users are 95% more likely to successfully quit smoking by using e-cigarette alternatives. Those individuals are better off vaping, according to a 2018 study from New York University, which found e-cigarettes to be “much safer than smoking.”
The American Cancer Society considers vaping “unsafe,” according to CBS News, but has also said that e-cigarettes are “likely to be significantly less harmful for adults than smoking regular cigarettes.” E-cigs are at least 95% less harmful than smoking, researchers said in that CBS report. One said the e-cig panic may thwart the greatest opportunity in 120 years to cut smoking.
Opponents of vaping typically claim that brands use flavors to draw children to their products. But they can just as well serve as a more palatable transition for adults looking to quit smoking combustible tobacco products. Stephen Knight, the owner of Vapejoose Inc., noted in a letter to the Michigan House Oversight Committee that “less than 2%” of the company’s customers use e-liquids that taste like tobacco. Most choose a flavor.
Under the proposed Illinois ban, like the Michigan ban, tobacco-flavored vaping products would be the only legal option for retailers.
When Pritzker in June was in Chicago to sign the bill making Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, he acknowledged the unintended consequences of pot prohibition. He did so in a city that suffered the unintended consequences of alcohol prohibition. State and local leaders would be wise to revisit those lessons and consider the emerging body of research on vaping before criminalizing a product.