The worsening outbreak of vape-linked illnesses and deaths has spurred lawmakers across the U.S. to take action, with officials in New Jersey and Massachusetts the latest to propose bans and other measures to curb vaping. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders are looking at a phased-in ban on selling vape products and directing health department officials to form a task force dedicated to studying risks associated with vaping and making policy recommendations.
In Massachusetts, the state Cannabis Control Commission has voted to roll out new labeling regulations requiring manufacturers to list inactive ingredients and additives on cannabis product labels. New Jersey’s and Massachusetts’ steps to address the dangers of vaping come as the FDA readies a possible nationwide ban on flavored e-cigarette products.
On September 12, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission voted unanimously to implement new rules requiring cannabis product manufacturers to list all of the ingredients in cannabis cartridges. Previously, labels only had to indicate the active cannabinoid content of the cartridge and its percentage of THC. Now, product labels must also list additives, thickening agents, and the specific terpenes included in the cartridge.
The additives in vape cartridges have come under heightened scrutiny after health officials in New York suggested a possible link between vitamin E acetate and the spate of hundreds of vape-linked illnesses and six confirmed deaths. As a result, consumers and regulators are demanding more information about inactive ingredients in cannabis products like vape pens. “One of the ways we can help people consume responsibly is give them more information,” said Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman.
Other public officials in Massachusetts are taking additional steps to improve public awareness of vaping risks and to protect cannabis consumers. Cannabis Control Commission Executive Director Shawn Collins has directed the agency to work more closely with testing labs and encourage them to develop testing procedures for additives and inactive ingredients.
And on September 11, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a mandate to healthcare providers requiring them to report any suspected vape-related lung illnesses to the department. So far, there have been no confirmed cases of vape-linked health problems in Massachusetts, a state which began legal retail cannabis sales last November.
While Massachusetts has so far managed to avoid any confirmed cases of vape-related sicknesses or hospitalizations, New Jersey has seen at least 19 cases. And compared to Massachusetts, New Jersey lawmakers are taking much stronger action in response. In fact, Gov. Phil Murphy gave a newly created task force complete authority to propose massive policy changes, including a ban on vape products.
“Their remit is as broad as imaginable,” Murphy said during a Thursday press conference. “The status quo will not be an option.”
But Gov. Murphy is also trying to change the status quo in New Jersey in another regard: legalizing cannabis. So is Senate President Steve Sweeney, who speaking to reporters after the Thursday presser, said he wasn’t sure how a bill banning vaping would impact plans to legalize cannabis. And despite calls for immediate action from Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who is another proponent of marijuana legalization, Sweeney has yet to set a legislative timetable to introduce a new vaping bill.
More immediately, Senate President Sweeney plans to direct state authorities to go after illicit vaping products. “Where we can start is the stores that are blaming the black market,” Sweeney said. “Well, maybe they can stop selling the black market products.”
Unregulated, untested cannabis vape products have been linked to several of the reported cases of lung illness. But an Oregon resident who died after vaping bought a cartridge from a licensed retailer. Oregon authorities have so far declined to release the name of the store allegedly involved.
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