Health Agent Arthur Boyle spent the hours after Gov. Charlie Baker’s call for a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products facilitating the removal of all vaping products from the shelves.
KINGSTON – Health Agent Arthur Boyle spent the hours after Gov. Charlie Baker’s call for a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products facilitating the removal of all vaping products from the shelves of stores licensed to sell.
The Board of Health held an emergency meeting Sept. 26 to address Baker’s decision Sept. 24 to declare a public health emergency and immediately implement the ban on in-store and online sales.
South Shore Vapors owner Jeff Cluett was blindsided. There was no vote, no notice, no due process, he said. It meant he had to close immediately and lay off two employees, facing an uncertain future.
“It’s the end, essentially,” he said. “I didn’t see this coming.”
Cluett said it’s very frustrating as a business owner to have vaping suddenly be considered a public health emergency when that hasn’t been the case in the more than three years since he opened in February 2016.
Cluett said reports of poor health due to vaping are regularly tied to illegally manufactured THC cartridges that alter the product, with THC being the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
“It’s been tainted with such a broad brush, and it’s devastating to an industry,” he said.
Cluett said vaping is about harm reduction, with many of his customers vaping down by choice to lower their nicotine intake to reduce their reliance on combustible cigarettes that kill on average 30 people a day in Massachusetts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies smoking as the leading cause of preventable deaths, with cigarette smoking responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, or 1,300 deaths every day.
“I would willingly close if I thought my products were hurting people instead of helping them,” he said.
As health agent, Boyle is responsible for enforcing the governor’s owners to ensure compliance with the bans that affect all devices and all flavored and non-flavored vaping products made with both nicotine and marijuana. Boyle said the Kingston Police offered to help as well.
“The sellers have all been very cooperative,” he said. “Opinions don’t count when the governor makes a declaration.”
At the emergency meeting, Boyle explained how he had left voicemail messages for all 17 licensed stores affected by the van and visited each one.
Boyle said the retailers can store the banned products or send it back to their supplier or wholesaler but cannot have it on display or in sight of customers.
"We’ll still be in business before, during and after the ban," said Geoff Yalenzezian, COO of Brennan’s Smoke Shop, a chain of tobacco stores throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, with a location in Pembroke. "We’ve been through the ups and downs of the tobacco industry. This is our 19th year and we are still here."
He said vaping represents about 10 percent of sales for his stores, so the impact won’t be severe. However, he said stores that sell only vaping products will be hard hit.
"I feel really bad for all the vape stores," he said. "Many of them won’t last. I hope Gov. Baker lifts the ban soon."
In announcing the ban, Baker said, “The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding, and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people. The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents.”
He said during the temporary ban, in effect through Jan. 25, the administration will work with medical experts, state and federal officials to better understand vaping illnesses and work on additional steps to address this public health crisis, possibly including legislation and regulations.
The administration is also expected to work on providing more resources for a public awareness campaign and smoking cessation programs.
The Board of Health recently approved a ban of its own, but one that was not as extreme as Baker’s. It’s scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. The Board of Health may discuss its ban at the next meeting, at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 7.
Doyle said he will be monitoring the administration’s progress and reporting to the board about any changes.
“We’re going to watch it for a month or so and see what happens,” he said.
Follow Kathryn Gallerani on Twitter @kgallreporter.