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Mass. Just Lifted Its Ban On Vaping Product Sales. Here's What You Need To Know

Compatible pods for the Juul on display at Liquid Smoke Shop in Allston (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Compatible pods for the Juul on display at Liquid Smoke Shop in Allston (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration lifted the emergency vaping products sales ban Wednesday during a meeting of the state's Public Health Council. That means some products will again be available for legal purchase, but the retail sale of flavored vaping liquids will remain illegal, under a recently passed state law.

Baker announced the temporary ban in September, citing a lack of information about the cause of a growing number of cases of lung illnesses and some deaths across the country and in Massachusetts. Public health officials have linked the illnesses to vaping.

Although the ban was originally scheduled to lift on Dec. 24, Baker decided to end it early, after state lawmakers last month approved the nation’s strictest tobacco regulations.

“We were comfortable stepping back from the ban because the legislature created a series of restrictions around access to vaping products, especially for kids, and gave the Department of Public Health some pretty broad latitude to regulate the product and make sure people understand the risks going forward,” Baker said.

New long-term regulations will go into place in phases, beginning Wednesday.

Here’s what you need to know about how vaping and tobacco sales will work in Massachusetts now that the temporary ban has lifted.

What tobacco products will be available in Massachusetts?

The law that Baker signed in November, An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control, bans the retail sale of all flavored tobacco, including flavored vaping products, menthol cigarettes and flavored chewing tobacco. But the ban takes effect at different times for different products. The ban on flavored vaping products is immediate; the only places where you’ll be able to purchase and use flavored electronic cigarettes are smoking bars. Flavored chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes will continue to be sold until June 2020, and then they’ll go the same way as flavored e-cigarettes, meaning available only in smoking bars.

What about JUUL pods and other vaping products?

Retail stores can resume selling unflavored or tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, or vaping products, as long as they have a nicotine concentration of less than 35 milligrams per milliliter of vaping solution. Anything higher than that, like all JUUL pods, will be available only in 21+ tobacco stores.

What are some of the new e-cigarette rules that the Public Health Council approved?

The new law gives the Massachusetts Department of Public Health some new powers to regulate vaping. That includes the ability to stop sales of any product that officials determine is causing vaping-related lung illness or is a significant threat to public health. Other measures include requiring signs warning consumers about the health risks of vaping at retail locations and requiring vaping products be placed behind a store's counter.

How will those be enforced?

Health officials can inspect stores to make sure that they’re complying with the new rules. If shops aren’t following the rules, then they can be fined thousands of dollars and ordered to temporarily stop selling tobacco products.

How is the Department of Public Health investigating vaping-related illnesses and deaths?

Monica Bharel, the DPH commissioner, told WBUR that medical professionals report all vaping-related injuries to her agency. Health officials then review the medical records, interview the clinicians and, if possible, speak with patients or their families. Bharel said data from the department will be made public as it becomes available.

Can people legally purchase marijuana vapes in Massachusetts?

No. The Cannabis Control Commission regulates the sale of marijuana vaping products in Massachusetts. In November, the CCC put a moratorium on all medical marijuana vape sales. That temporary hold will remain in place even after the state's new nicotine rules take effect.

This article was originally published on December 10, 2019.

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Angus Chen Twitter Reporter, CommonHealth
Angus Chen is a reporter for WBUR's CommonHealth.

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