James Visaya uses a 'box mod' vape in this file photo.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Sept. 27 announced an executive order that will in effect change how state agencies monitor, regulate and communicate about vaping products amid nationwide concern over health impacts. 

“We aren’t waiting for Big Tobacco to tell us what is in their products,” Inslee said. “We aren’t going to take health guidance from them, because we know that their goals are to make money and create new customers. That is what they are interested in. We are interested in ensuring that adults and young people have known and regulated ingredients in vaping products. Everyone deserves to know what is in the vaping liquid they are inhaling into their lungs.”

Inslee was joined by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman at a Seattle press conference where the changes were announced. 

There have been seven cases of severe lung illness connected to vaping or e-cigarette devices in Washington, according to a press release from Inslee’s office. Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has said there have been 12 deaths nationwide. That’s in addition to 800 cases of lung injury possibly related to these products, according to a press release. 

The governor’s executive order asks the state Board of Health to adopt emergency rules to ban all flavored vapor products, including flavored THC products. 

The order directs the department of health and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to:

• Immediately ban any ingredients or sources that are found to be a cause of this acute lung illness; and

• Work together to draft legislation for 2020 that will ban all flavored vapor products; require disclosure of ingredients in vapor products; increase regulatory oversight; limit bulk sales; expand the educational campaign; and clarify the Department of Health’s authority in situations like this where there is a harm or risk to the public but the specific cause of that harm is unknown.

• Immediately take whatever steps they can to warn consumers of the risks, encourage health care providers to report all suspected cases, and expand their educational campaign to increase awareness around the dangers of vaping.

Experts haven’t identified a specific product or substance responsible for the illnesses. 

“We now have seven cases of vaping lung disease in Washington,” Wiesman said. “It’s no surprise that the recent cases of vaping lung disease are in young people — these devices target our younger generations. We need immediate action to better regulate these products and end nicotine addiction. These lung injuries are extremely concerning, and we all need to act. I appreciate Gov. Inslee’s leadership on this issue. I also appreciate all our health care providers and public health staff who are working so hard to track down the problem and provide care to patients.”

Liquor and Cannabis Board Director Rick Garza said his agency has been working closely with the governor, the department of health and the cannabis vapor industry over the past few weeks.

“We will immediately issue consumer warning signs to state-licensed cannabis retail stores as well as require that licensed cannabis processors disclose all compounds — including ingredients, solvents, additives — used in the production and processing of vapor products and vaping devices themselves,” Garza said.

According to the governor’s office, the department of health is currently analyzing real-time data from hospitals to identify individuals who are admitted with severe lung disease. 

Some patients have reported that their symptoms developed over a few days while others said  their symptoms developed over a few weeks. Vape users who experience shortness of breath, cough, nausea, vomiting or a fever are advised to seek treatment immediately. 

Sen. Annette Cleveland said it’s the state’s responsibility to protect the public’s health and safety.

“As doctors and public health officials continue to investigate the precise cause of these vaping-related illnesses and deaths, it has become clear that there is a pressing need for the state and federal government to act,” Cleveland said. “I applaud Gov. Inslee for his actions today to address these events. As chair of the Senate Health and Long-term Care Committee, I look forward to continuing to monitor this situation as more evidence and information is gathered, and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to implement policy to help prevent further vaping related illnesses during the upcoming 2020 legislative session.”

Sen. Karen Keiser said the vaping market needs much more oversight.

“Scientists are not yet able to determine what exact chemicals from the extraction process or other ingredients may be causing the health problems we’re seeing,” Keiser said. “I am working with colleagues and stakeholders to draft a bill requiring that vape pen producers disclose all ingredients and the extraction methods they use so that consumers will be informed and researchers can get to the bottom of this puzzle. We must do everything possible to keep Washingtonians safe and healthy. As chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, I will schedule hearings to investigate all options. Oversight of the enforcement of regulations for both tobacco products and marijuana products is the responsibility of that committee.”

At the end of the press conference announcing the executive order, Inslee said he was proud to sign a bill making the legal ago for buying tobacco 21 earlier this year. He said there is more work ahead. 

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