Holding signs that said “vaping saves lives,” dozens of vape store owners and customers gathered at the State House on Thursday to protest Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency ban on their preferred nicotine products.
They criticized Baker’s four-month ban as overly broad, misguided, and harmful to small businesses and to the people who use electronic cigarettes to quit smoking. E-cigarettes carry risks but contain fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes.
“This is doing way more harm than good,” said Phil Stevens, 57, of Fall River, who quit smoking cigarettes through vaping. “I’m almost completely off nicotine now.”
In declaring a public health emergency, Baker said on Sept. 24 he needed to ban marijuana and nicotine vape sales in the state to protect people while scientists work to determine the cause of an illness that has caused at least 1,080 lung injuries and 18 deaths nationwide. Massachusetts officials said they have investigated 83 possible cases, with 10 confirmed or probable cases reported to federal authorities.
Baker has said he focused on input from medical experts, not the industry, in making his decision. Public health advocates say the current outbreak has shed light on more dangers posed by nicotine vapes and the chemicals inside them than previously understood, partially because doctors have long asked patients only about cigarette use, not vaping.
Federal officials said Friday that most of the illnesses nationwide seem linked to concentrated marijuana oil vape products, largely those purchased from unlicensed sellers. However, 17 percent of patients interviewed nationwide reported vaping only nicotine.
Baker said that information didn’t change his thinking on the ban because “most is not all.” His office also pointed to some cases being possibly linked to licensed cannabis dispensaries or nicotine vape products.
At the rally, e-cigarette users said they felt the ban on licensed products sent them into the illicit market, where the harmful chemicals are.
“The governor has basically left me no option but to turn to the black market,” said Jennifer Borucki, 45, a technology worker from Arlington.
“We’re doing our best to survive,” Patel said. “Seventy percent of our business was gone overnight.”
Michael Sheen, owner of M&D Distributing in Newton, which sells e-cigarette products to stores, said he had to lay off three of his five employees.
“These guys have families,” Sheen said. “We would love to fight for regulations that make sense for both sides.”