Maryland officials are exploring options that could lead to stricter rules or even a ban on vaping products as the number of related lung illnesses and deaths climbs both in the state and nationally.
Gov. Larry Hogan and state health officials are said to be reviewing state law that could lead to required notice of health concerns on products or even a ban in Maryland, according to a source familiar with the issue. Meanwhile, Maryland Health Secretary Robert “Bobby” Neall is requiring state health care workers to report any lung illnesses suspected to be related to the use of nicotine or cannabis e-cigarette products.
It is not yet clear what authority the state has to issue such a ban or who would have the power to invoke it — Hogan or Neall — and no definitive option has yet been presented to the governor.
Included in the consideration are other intermediary steps such as required consumer warning labels.
Thursday’s order from Neall was described as a complimentary effort as the state explores options on e-cigarette products.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health said earlier this week that officials are trying to determine if such a ban is possible.
Vaping-related legislation is also on the horizon.
A spokeswoman for the state Office of the Attorney General said Attorney General Brian Frosh is working with Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, on related legislation. Details of the bill were not immediately available.
The General Assembly returns in January for the 2020 session.
Some other states already have already instituted bans on the products.
Michigan enacted a 180-day emergency ban of flavored vaping products, except “tobacco” flavor, while legislation works through that state’s legislature.
New York implemented a similar ban that imposes a $2,000 per-violation penalty on any retailer caught selling most flavored e-cigarette products. The ban is set to last 90 days and can be renewed.
Massachusetts imposed a ban on the sale of vaping products, including cannabis-related products, both at retail outlets and online through Jan. 25.
Other states, including Delaware, Illinois, and New Jersey are also considering bans.
Last week, retail giant Walmart announced it would cease sales of the products once its current stocks were depleted.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health is ramping up its required reporting as it tries to determine the scope of the illness in the state.
Neall issued a clinical order Thursday requiring health care providers to submit information to the state within one day as the number of Marylanders tied to the illness climbed to 23. The clinical directive comes two days after the state Department of Health issued a stern warning to users of vaping and e-cigarette products and encouraged them to discontinue their use.
Symptoms of the illness include shortness of breath and pain associated with breathing and cough. Nausea, fever, vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms.
Nationally, there have been more than 800 cases of lung illness connected to the use of vaping products. The deaths of 13 people are also said to be related to the illness, though no fatalities yet have been reported in Maryland.
The cause of the illness remains unknown.
Some have attributed the cause to chemicals such as propylene glycol and vitamin E acetate in the cartridges used for vaporizing nicotine and cannabis products.
Maryland medical cannabis retailers and wholesalers have told advocacy groups and the state that products sold in Maryland contain neither chemical. A patient safety advocacy group has called for the state to conduct verification testing on those products.
A spokesman for the an association of processors and growers said bootleg products “made in basements” contain common household cooking oils and are causing health problems.
Neall, in his order, said the heightened reporting, which is to include any unexplained lung illness in which a patient used an e-cigarette product in the 90 days prior to getting sick, is needed to give the health department a clear look at the extent of the illness.