Massachusetts officials rescind ban on vaping product sales

BOSTON (AP) — Retailers in Massachusetts will once again be allowed to sell unflavored vaping products after state officials on Wednesday ended an emergency ban on their sale and approved new restrictions on flavored vaping products.

The state’s Public Health Council on Wednesday voted to rescind a temporary ban on the sale of all vaping products that was imposed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration in September.

The ban had been set to expire Dec. 24, but Baker had said his administration would move to end the ban early in light of new legislation he signed into law last month restricting the sale and use of flavored tobacco and vaping products.

The council on Wednesday also approved emergency regulations related to the new law, which took effect immediately for flavored vaping products but take effect for flavored tobacco products in June.

A handful of states have imposed temporary bans on vaping products, but Massachusetts is now the first with permanent restrictions in place.

The new law specifically restricts the sale and consumption of flavored tobacco and vaping products to licensed smoking bars such as cigar bars and hookah lounges. The restriction extends to popular menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco.

It also places a 75% excise tax on nicotine vaping products and requires health insurers to cover tobacco cessation counseling.

Wednesday’s actions effectively mean convenience stores, gas stations, liquor stores and other licensed tobacco retailers will be able to resume selling unflavored tobacco and vaping products.

State Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said the new provisions limit youth access to vaping products and create new public warnings while their health effects are still being studied.

“From a public health point of view, we cannot recommend anybody use e-cigarette or vaping products at this time,” she said after the votes.

Bharel said retailers will be able to resume sales once they put up new signs detailing the new state restrictions, the health risks of vaping and information about tobacco cessation services.

Retailers will also have to place vaping products behind the store's counter, just like tobacco products. And they’ll need to make sure any vaping products on their shelves have a nicotine concentration of less than 35 milligrams per milliliter of vaping solution.

Anything containing higher nicotine concentrations, such as certain products by popular electronic cigarette maker Juul, will be restricted to tobacco stores that restrict entry for people under the age of 21.

Violators face fines starting at $1,000 for the first offense.

Tony Abboud, the executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, said in a statement that the bans “will do nothing to protect youth.”

He added that the Vapor Technology Association is ready to work the state “on the many real solutions," including their ‘21 & DONE!’ plan that they presented at the White House to preserve “flavored vapor as an alternative for adults desperately trying to quit smoking.”

The governor imposed the temporary emergency ban on vaping products amid a rash of suspected vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths nationwide.

State officials say they’ve identified 90 probable and confirmed cases of vaping-related lung illnesses in Massachusetts. Three of those people have died.

Officials recently disclosed that at least six of the residents had used products purchased from state-licensed marijuana retailers.

The state’s Cannabis Control Commission has imposed a separate moratorium on the sale of marijuana vaping products.