MONTANA – Last fall, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services announced an emergency rule temporarily restricting the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in Montana.
Gov. Steve Bullock initially banned the sale of flavored vaping products on Oct. 22 in response to a nationwide outbreak of illnesses now known as E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). Ravalli County District Judge Jennifer Lint signed a temporary restraining order pausing the ban before it took effect in response to a suit filed by a group of vape shop owners but later ruled in favor of the state and on Dec. 13, 2019, the department announced that the 120-day restriction would enter into effect on Dec. 18, 2019.
The department reminds the public that emergency rules outlawing the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products remains in effect throughout Montana, and will be for a 120-day period that began on Dec. 18, 2019. The temporary rules expire on April 15, 2020.
The temporary restrictions include the sale of all flavored e-cigarette products, including flavored nicotine, THC, and CBD e-cigarette products, in-store and online. The rules do not require retailers to destroy their existing inventory.
As of Feb. 4, 2020, EVALI has sickened more than 2,700 people nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is responsible for 64 deaths across 28 states and the District of Columbia. There have been eight confirmed cases in Montana and one death. No cases of EVALI have been reported in Flathead County.
Critics of the ban say it is an overreaction to an illness that has been traced primarily to black-market products containing THC, the chemical compound in marijuana that produces a high. Vaping advocates say e-cigarettes are used mostly as a smoking cessation tool and that most former smokers favor different flavors in order to disassociate from the taste of traditional cigarettes.
Proponents of the ban point to the appeal of some flavors to young people, citing the 2019 Montana Youth Behavior Risk Survey that reported 58.3 percent of high school students had used an electronic vapor product in the last year. Sales of tobacco-based vaping products are restricted to people 21 and older.
Information about the restrictions has been made available on the DPHHS website. The website provides guidance on how the emergency rules are being enforced, including citizen complaints and inspections of retailers by local health officials. The information includes Frequently Asked Questions for retailers.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) issued a notice on Feb. 19 reminding the public of the ban and sharing a website where citizens can report retailers still selling flavored products, dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/mtupp/vapingcomplaintform.
DPHHS has received 42 total complaints involving 17 different tobacco retailers since enforcement began, and local health departments have referred 13 cases to county attorneys in their jurisdiction. A person violating the emergency rules can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. DPHHS Public Information Officer Jon Ebelt told the Beacon “a majority of the retailers are following the law and are in compliance” with the rules. No complaints have been filed against retailers in Flathead County.
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