Needham Public Health Director Timothy McDonald sat down with the Needham Times on Wednesday to talk about how his department will enforce a 4-month ban on vaping products imposed by Governor Charlie Baker this week.
He also provided an update on how the town is monitoring the threat posed by the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus.
Here is what he wants you to know about the two emerging health crises:
Needham Public Health has the resources to enforce Gov. Baker’s vaping ban.
“Other communities have a lot more vendors and have smaller health departments,” McDonald noted. “We have the resources to go enforce [the ban] and we already have.”
The morning after Baker issued the ban, McDonald said his department called vendors in town selling vaping products and followed up with visits to each location to ensure the products were removed from their shelves.
There are ten licensed tobacco retailers in Needham, but only five of those locations sell vaping products.
“We are going to continue to work with vendors to make sure they are compliant,” McDonald said. “We are also going to push prevention messaging – especially youth prevention messaging – because if you look at the rates of youth vaping, obviously [young people] are the primary driver of usage.”
Even without reliable data on vaping use, the jury is in on the effects of nicotine:
Long-term studies support conclusions around the smoking of combustible tobacco, but when it comes to vaping tobacco, McDonald said, there is a belief that “the reasons this is happening to people is because they bought illicit, black market products.”
“I don’t give that quite as much credence as others do,” McDonald said. "There is not great data right now about all of the ingredients and the long-term exposure set.”
According to McDonald, studies show that in most people the brain continues to develop up to age 25. That means young people are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction.
About a month ago, Needham Public Health started a vaping task force with several community partners and McDonald says his staff works with schools to develop and deliver public messaging and curriculum aimed at educating young people on the harms of nicotine use.
But no matter how old a person is, and regardless of if they are suing combustible cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco or vaping products, all of it has a negative impact on your health.
“We want to throw a caution out there that being addicted to nicotine is a problem for anyone, regardless of age,” McDonald said.
“The people who are currently using [vaping products] really should stop and consider if they understand the full health outcomes.”
Smoking cessation therapies are easier to access as a result of the ban:
“One of the things that accompanied the Governor’s public health emergency declaration was a standing order signed by the Commissioner of Public Health that mandates insurance coverage for smoking cessation therapies and doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription,” McDonald said.
In lieu of vaping products, other alternatives, including the prescription smoking cessation medicine Chantix, can be used to help tobacco users kick the habit.
Some people advocate for e-cigarettes and vaping as a replacement for smoking,” McDonald said. “I think the most important thing to understand is that [vaping products] have significant nicotine content – and nicotine is incredibly addictive.”
On EEE, “Needham is at low risk.”
The town is fortunate that its threat level has not increased, “because if you look at the areas just south and west of us – Medfield, Holliston, Ashland and Framingham – they are at critical risk,” McDonald said
Risk levels are based on a couple of factors. If a community has a human case of EEE or a mammal case, such as a horse, risk factors are elevated.
“We have not had a human case, and we have not had a case in a mammal,” he said.
Each community sets mosquito traps and regularly sends insect samples to a state laboratory in Jamaica Plain for testing. If the virus is found in one of those samples, the community’s risk level will be elevated.
“There are not a ton of mosquitoes that are getting caught,” McDonald reported. “And if they are getting caught, they most likely don’t have EEE.”
Residents should still take precautions.
“I think the challenge is that it’s still a little bit warm for fall, the only way that we will sort of have a clear end to the dangerous seasons is when we have a hard frost,” McDonald said. “It’s getting down to the 50’s at night, but that’s still a long way away [from a hard frost].”
A “hard frost” will occur when the temperature stays below 28 degrees for a period of 2 hours, or below 32 degrees for a period of three hours. Until then, McDonald recommends residents wear long sleeves and pants if they are going out in the evening hours.
“If you are not going to do that,” McDonald said, “or even if you are – you should wear an EPA approved mosquito repellent with DEET.”