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Newton responds to governor’s ban on vaping products

Governor Charlie Baker announced a public emergency and a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products.
Governor Charlie Baker announced a public emergency and a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

In the wake of Governor Charlie Baker’s statewide, four-month ban on all vaping products, Newton officials are acting quickly to make sure stores that sell products are removing the items from their shelves.

Massachusetts is the first state to temporarily prohibit vaping products, and Deborah Youngblood, Newton’s commissioner of health and human services, said it was the right move.

“We are really grateful that Governor Baker is taking the lead on this issue and showing such great leadership with something we’ve been very concerned about,” Youngblood said.

The Baker administration has reported 61 suspected cases of lung illnesses linked to e-cigarettes and vaping cannabis oil in the Commonwealth. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 805 “confirmed and probable” cases of lung-related illnesses due to vaping nationwide — including 12 deaths — and the numbers are rising.

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In the hours after Baker announced the ban Sept. 24, Youngblood said, Newton Health and Human Services staff members contacted all stores in Newton that sell nicotine and marijuana to ensure they were aware of the ban on all vaping products.

The next step, she said, was to visit all 41 stores in person to confirm their compliance. All of the visits to the nicotine retailers have been completed, and Newton officials are expected to visit Garden Remedies — Newton’s only medical marijuana and recreational adult use dispensary — to confirm it is not selling vaping products.

The Newton Public School District and the Newton Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study last year showing the rate of high school students who use vaping products has skyrocketed in the last several years.

“A lot of our energy has gone toward trying to restrict having another generation of people becoming addicted to nicotine,” Youngblood said.

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Newton’s Public Health Program specialist, Teresa Wood Kett, explained that the city is focused on preventing youth addiction because many adults who are now addicted to nicotine started using at a young age.

Since the state is in charge of regulating the cannabis industry, however, local officials are less involved in the next steps with Newton’s current and planned cannabis stores that offer vaping products.

“The administration will continue to work with medical experts and federal and state officials to better understand why vaping is causing lung-related illnesses and consider all options as next steps,” said Terry MacCormack, a spokesperson from Governor Baker’s office, in an e-mail Tuesday.

Garden Remedies opened its first store in 2016. It offers many items from the cannabis flower to edibles to topicals. CEO Karen Munkacy said she was disappointed cannabis vaping products were included in the ban.

“We are being lumped with the cigarette industry and their products are not the same as our products,” Munkacy said. “Their products are very addictive.”

She said while she recognizes the public health concerns caused by some vaping products, she disagrees with comparing e-cigarettes and cannabis oil.

“We support the governor’s temporary ban because we want to make certain that the correct public policy is in place,” Munkacy said. “We look forward to working with the administration on this issue to come up with a long-term public policy that is best for the citizens of Massachusetts.”

Munkacy said she is concerned that people who vape cannabis oil might turn to substances such as alcohol and prescription drugs. She said some studies have shown marijuana is a safer alternative to alcohol or some pharmaceuticals.

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Since this prohibition is new, Munkacy said, she does not know whether it will financially impact her business. Customers might just switch to other cannabis products, she said.

Marcus Nelson, 28, said he is one of the many Newton residents who relies on cannabis. He vapes cannabis oil and was shocked to hear about the ban.

“I need my marijuana pods,” the local bartender explained.

Nelson said he knows several other cannabis users who will be outraged by the temporary prohibition. He blamed the e-cigarette industry for the recent cases of lung illness and said he thinks cannabis oil vaping products should have been excluded from the ban.

Karen Munkacy, CEO of Garden Remedies in Newton, said she was disappointed cannabis vaping products were included in the ban.
Karen Munkacy, CEO of Garden Remedies in Newton, said she was disappointed cannabis vaping products were included in the ban.Shayna Scott

Shayna Scott can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.