HELENA (AP) — Montana is placing a temporary ban on the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes and vaping products in an effort to reduce underage use while officials investigate the cause of the vaping-related deaths and pulmonary illnesses being reported nationwide.
"This is the right thing to do during the outbreak of these illnesses and deaths," Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday. The ban will be in place from Oct. 22 through Feb. 19.
At least 18 people have died and more than 1,000 people have been sickened due to vaping-related illnesses. Two illnesses have been confirmed in Montana, one in Gallatin County and another in Yellowstone County.
Dr. Greg Holzman, the state medical director, said the health department strongly recommends that all Montanans refrain from using any vape products, whether they're using them for nicotine or the active ingredients in marijuana or hemp.
"For those who have recovered from this illness, we don't know what the long-term consequences will be," Holzman said. While the cause of the illnesses hasn't been confirmed, most of the cases involve marijuana vaping.
Montana's ban is focused on curtailing use by teens.
"It's fundamentally frightening that kids are being purposely exposed to these substances by the vaping industry, putting their lives and long-term health at risk," Bullock said. He noted e-cigarettes come in about 15,000 "flavors like you would probably find at a shaved ice or snow cone stand."
Nearly 43,000 Montanans between the ages of 12 and 18 have tried vaping products and about 22,000 use them, Bullock said. Almost all of the kids who have tried e-cigarettes started with a flavored e-cigarette and 70% of those who use e-cigarettes say they do so because they like the flavor, according to the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study.
Bullock said he was not asking retailers to destroy products, but to pull them from the shelves.
Derek Amburn, who owns Mountain Man Vapor in Helena, estimated 90% of the vaping juice he sells is flavored and the ban would put him out of business. He said he only sells to adults, he requires identification and his employees monitor people outside the store to make sure they're not buying nicotine products for someone who is underage.
Industry groups, like the Vapor Technology Association, argue bans hurt small businesses and adult smokers who say the flavors help them quit traditional cigarettes.
Dr. Kathy White, a pediatrician at the Southwest Montana Community Health Center in Butte and president of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said nicotine is harmful to an adolescent's developing brain, can lead to addiction to other substances and can also affect attention, impulse control, moods and learning.
Several speakers urged parents to talk with their kids about the dangers of vaping products and Holzman said they could take advantage of My Life, My Quit , a tobacco, nicotine and vaping cessation website geared to teens.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services is adding vaping associated pulmonary illnesses to the list of reportable diseases and conditions and will ask health care providers to report cases to the agency within 24 hours, Bullock said.
President Donald Trump said last month he planned to ban flavored vaping juice, but no federal ban has been put into place.
Montana health officials planned to file emergency rules Tuesday. Six other states also have taken steps to ban some e-cigarette products. The vaping industry has sued to block emergency bans in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan.
"I would love to think that the industry would do the responsible thing and not bring action on this" in Montana, Bullock said. "But if they do, we're prepared."
While the emergency rules also will apply to online sales, they do not apply to tribes, which are sovereign nations. However, the health department is recommending that tribes adopt similar policies.
The ban will be enforced the same way other tobacco protections are enforced, through retailer inspections and citizen complaints.