Vt. Gov. Scott says vape ban should come from Legislature

  • Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott, speaking at a news conference in Montpelier, Vt., on Wednesday July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) Wilson Ring

Published: 9/27/2019 10:07:51 PM
Modified: 9/27/2019 11:04:15 PM

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said that in the wake of a wave of illnesses linked to e-cigarette and vape use, he is open to banning flavored vaping products in Vermont.

But unlike governors in other states, who have issued emergency regulations to crack down on vaping products in recent weeks, Scott said he is in favor of waiting until next year when lawmakers return to Montpelier to consider a ban through legislation.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, declared a public health emergency following the outbreak of lung diseases linked to vaping and initiated a four-month ban on all vaping products.

On Thursday, Rhode Island’s Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, signed an executive order banning flavored vaping products. New York, California and Michigan have also all implemented bans on some vaping devices.

But Scott says that while he is interested in banning flavored vaping products, which are believed to appeal to younger users, he wants to work with lawmakers to do it.

“I’m willing to have this conversation with the Legislature,” Scott said Thursday. “We’re only two months away from coming back into session. I’m willing to have conversations with them about what the next steps should be.”

Scott and Vermont lawmakers have already taken steps to restrict vaping this year. New laws went into effect earlier this year that increased the age to purchase vaping products, banned online vape sales and levied a 92% tax on vaping devices.

The governor said that with those measures in place, the state has already moved to curb vaping and an immediate ban isn’t necessary.

“We’ve taken steps already,” Scott said. “It’s not as though we’re asleep at the switch here.”

However, since those laws were passed, Vermont, like states across the country, has seen an outbreak of lung illnesses that have been linked to vaping.

Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, the chair of the House Human Services Committee, said that given the recent spate of illnesses, a ban on vaping, particularly flavored products, is needed before lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January.

“I think a role for a state Health Department or state government is to issue an immediate ban while we look into this more,” Pugh said.

“We don’t really need to wait until we have more cases in Vermont,” she said. “Let’s act now and protect the health of Vermonters.”

Pugh also said that she would support a ban on all vaping products, not just flavored ones.

According to the Vermont Health Department’s data Thursday, officials have confirmed three cases of vaping illnesses in the state, and have investigated 19 possible cases. Fourteen of the illnesses have been determined not to be associated with vaping.

In many cases around the country, the illnesses appear to be tied to black market vaping products that are used to smoke THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — not e-cigarette use. As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there have been 805 confirmed illnesses linked to vaping in the U.S., 12 of which resulted in death.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, said that she plans to introduce legislation next year that would ban flavored vaping products.

She said she would prefer to institute a ban through law, rather than through an executive order from the administration.

“I think a permanent ban to me makes a whole lot more sense than a temporary ban,” Lyons said.

“And I think that people who are affected who are using vaping products have been probably frightened enough that they’re going to be cautious about where they’re getting their product,” she said.

At this point, Lyons doesn’t believe a ban on all vaping devices necessary, particularly since the state took steps to limit access to the products this year. But she supports the prohibition of flavored products because they “pull people in to begin vaping, or smoking.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, reached out to neighboring states this week, including Vermont, about working on together on regional policies that address vaping and recreational marijuana use following the recent recent outbreak of illnesses.

Rebecca Kelley, the governor’s spokesperson said that Scott has “left the door open for collaboration and discussion” with Cuomo, but didn’t have enough time to “review the request and participate” when he received it this week.

Some public health experts have criticized the bans that other states have put on vaping products.

Vaughn Rees, who directs the Center for Tobacco Control at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told WBUR this week that Massachusetts’ ban, which temporarily bans all vaping products, may encourage users to smoke cigarettes instead.

“Completely removing those products means that we’ve got a number of people who have successfully transitioned from smoking to vaping — have reduced their health risks as a consequence,” Rees said. “But because they’re dependent upon nicotine — may be faced with the prospect of returning to smoking.”

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