HILO — The state Department of Health issued what it called a “health advisory” Monday, urging everyone to stop vaping, no matter the substance or source, until current nationwide investigations are complete.
The advisory follows the state’s first reported case of lung illness related to the use of vaping products and national estimates of more than 1,000 reported cases of lung illnesses and 18 deaths associated with vaping and e-cigarettes.
“Vaping is not safe, and everyone is advised to stop using vaping products until more is known about their association with serious lung disease,” said state Health Director Bruce Anderson in a statement. “Parents are advised to talk with their children about the dangers of vaping, and physicians are reminded to ask their patients with symptoms of lung illness or injury about their use of e-cigarettes or their history of vaping and report cases to the Department of Health for investigation.”
New York and Massachusetts instituted vaping bans, with New York becoming the first state to prohibit the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids in September. That prohibition was later expanded to ban menthol-flavored vaping products.
Vape shop owners in both states sued, seeking preliminary injunctions to put those vape bans on hold.
A New York appellate court issued a temporary restraining order Thursday, a small victory for store owners. A New York Supreme Court justice will have a hearing on the preliminary junction of the ban Oct. 18, but shops are allowed to continue sales at least until a judge rules on the lawsuit.
“All the vape shops here are mom-and-pop stores. They’re all small businesses,” said Mariner Revell, owner of Irie Hawaii, a vape shop with six locations islandwide. “And we’re all going to hurt if they take some premature action to ban the sales.
“If you look at New York, they banned the flavors. Whether it’s flavored or not, where’s the source of (the products causing injuries or illness)? And they can’t tell you that. From all the reports that I’ve seen, it’s illegal THC vapes being sold on the street by whoever.”
In addition, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday ordered a six-month ban on sales of all flavored vaping products, leaving vape shop owners confounded and local health officials questioning how to enforce it.
According to DOH, an estimated 26% of high school youth and 16% of middle school youth in Hawaii currently smoke e-cigarettes. That gives Hawaii one of the highest rates of vaping among high school and middle school youth in the nation. The estimated national average for high school youth is 13%.
“There is serious nationwide concern over vaping, and in Hawaii, our children are especially at risk as we have some of the highest estimated rates of e-cigarette use among our high school and middle school youth,” said Gov. David Ige. “The state is placing a high priority on investigating lung illnesses related to vaping and our Department of Health will immediately ban any products that are identified as the source of a vaping-related outbreak. We will also introduce legislation to regulate these products and further restrict their access to our youth.”
A bill that would have banned flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquids was killed this past session in the state House Finance Committee, with lawmakers saying they suspected teens would continue to obtain the products online even if sales were prohibited.
“States that ban it, ban it based on fear. I understand why they’re doing it,” Revell said. “They’re scared, but people get poisoned by various things every year. And do they ban all the products … a soap or whatever it is? I understand the fear aspect of it, but I hope the Health Department does some serious research into it.
“I’ve been selling it since 2009, and why, only now, are all these illnesses popping up? If the vaping itself is what’s causing this, why haven’t all these illnesses been happening in the last nine, 10 years? In the 10 years I’ve been selling the product, I haven’t had one customer come back telling me they got sick.”
The DOH recommendations are to “not use e-cigarettes or vaping devices of any kind” and for those doing so to stop “until the cause of these vaping-associated illnesses is determined.”
“If you choose to continue using vaping devices, do not use off-market products,” the warning continues. “Caution is especially advised regarding the use of off-market THC-containing liquids. ‘Off-market’ products are those available through the internet, purchased from persons on the street, and those which are homemade. Homemade products often involve modifying or adding substances to products purchased at retail stores.
“While evidence points to a higher incidence of negative health impacts among users of off-market THC products, some patients suffering negative health impacts report using only nicotine products or products obtained on the market.”
DOH also advises pregnant women, children and youth to not vape, and reminds it is illegal to sell vaping products to anyone younger than 21 in Hawaii and for anyone younger than 21 to purchase, use or possess vaping devices. The agency advised medical cannabis patients to find an alternative to vaping and added there is insufficient testing on claims that vaping is a better alternative for people kicking a cigarette habit.
“There are people who use this product as an alternative to tobacco, and if they can’t get it, they will go back to cigarettes,” Revell said. “They’re not going to get the same satisfaction out of nicotine gum or patches.”
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported early Monday evening that Anderson said DOH is investigating a second possible serious lung ailment associated with vaping.