Clinical instructor and vice chair, Northeastern University School of Pharmacy; Stoughton resident; steering committee member, Stoughton OASIS
The dramatic increase in lung injury associated with vaping nationally and in Massachusetts is a significant public health concern. Governor Baker and the Public Health Council have responded with a multifaceted strategy including a temporary ban on vaping products for up to 4 months, authorization for pharmacists to bill health insurers that cover nicotine replacement products, elimination of co-payment for nicotine replacement therapy for MassHealth recipients, and enhanced investigation. This approach provides support for individuals who use vaping products and will give public health officials additional time to understand this issue.
A “Public Health Emergency” is defined as “an occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition . . . that poses a substantial risk to humans by either causing a significant number of human fatalities or permanent or long-term disability.” Given the number of cases, our lack of knowledge about the negative consequences of vaping, and the seriousness of the illness to young healthy people, this situation meets this definition.
Critics contend that adults have the right to make their own decisions. This is disingenuous considering the history of this industry in producing flavored products and marketing to minors. They also state that the ban violates the rights of businesses selling these products. I would agree if we could provide consumers with enough information to allow for an informed decision. Currently we cannot.
The Food and Drug Administration has the responsibility for oversight of tobacco and electronic nicotine-delivery systems; however, the agency does not regulate the ingredients used to make vaping liquid or require proof that these products are safe. This is a classic case of laws and regulations trying to catch up with technology. The industry has allegedly made unsubstantiated therapeutic claims, marketed to minors, and been accused of other violations.
Hopefully increased scrutiny can resolve these problems quickly. As co-chair of OASIS, the substance abuse coalition in Stoughton, I applaud the ban for raising awareness of the negative health consequences of vaping, particularly among minors. This gives us the opportunity to discuss what we know — and more importantly what we do not.
Owner, New England Vapors, in Woburn
In 2010, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer due to many years of smoking. He was a World War II veteran who stormed Normandy Beach, but despite multiple attempts, he couldn’t defeat smoking until it was too late.
Following his death, I attempted to quit smoking, myself, using methods ranging from the pharmaceutical pill Chantix to the patch and gum. Nothing worked.
In 2015, I was introduced to vaping and within two days was cigarette-free. For me, being able to see the vapor and taste something other than nasty smoke made it so much easier to succeed. Being able to visit my local vape store and talk to former smokers was a form of therapy, and trying new flavors was something to look forward to.
Last year I was fortunate enough to have saved enough money to purchase an existing vape shop from a friend. It was a tough decision for my wife and me, especially with three children, but we wanted to invest in the technology that had enabled me to improve my health. We thought if we worked hard, followed the law, and stayed focused on helping adult smokers quit, our investment would eventually pan out.
After six months, business was going well. However, that all changed when health authorities began reporting on “vaping-related” illnesses — without giving all the facts. Today, we know that nearly 80 percent of patients involved in the recent outbreak used THC products. Clearly, this is not a “vaping illness problem” but an illicit THC oil problem.
After an initial loss of business, we expected foot traffic would return to our store once people heard the truth about what people were vaping. We will never know, though, because of Governor Baker’s ban.
This industry has meant the world to me. I’ve met many friends and people who put a high value on the mission of helping smokers quit. That type of positive attitude keeps me motivated, even with so much negativity out there.
I have no idea how my business will survive. But I know this has been life-changing for me, and that other adult smokers need this option. I do not intend to quit.
This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.