The Vaping Ban Sowed Chaos in Massachusetts, but Charlie Baker Regrets Nothing

It was "not an easy decision," but the first-in-the-nation ban was the right call, he says.

[Joshua Qualls/Governor’s Press Office]

Just a few days after Charlie Baker’s move to ban vaping statewide with the snap of his fingers, there are still a lot of unknowns: What will all those people who took up e-cigarettes to quit smoking do now? Could the ban lead people to seek potentially dangerous alternatives on the black market? What about all those vape shop owners now sitting on a worthless stock of nicotine-laced products? Or medical marijuana patients who rely on THC vaporizers?

But still, as the full consequences of his decision continue to reveal themselves, Charlie Baker says he has no regrets. “Once we had met with all the medical experts, to do nothing was just not a viable option,” Baker told reporters on Thursday, according to the State House News Service, adding that the surprise, first-in-the-nation ban was “not an easy decision.”

His comments came four days after he declared a public health emergency and a four-month ban on both nicotine and THC electronic cigarette products. The move has been met with praise from the public health officials and Attorney General Maura Healey, but has prompted protest from some health experts and anti-tobacco advocates, as well as the e-cigarette industry.

“I totally get that there’s disruption associated with this but compared to the rising number of people who are perfectly healthy but have this terrible debilitating injury to their lungs, who are in fact on the verge of dying, it seemed like the right choice and I stand by it,” he said.

Before making the call, which was quickly approved by the Public Health Commission, Baker heard from public health officials late last week who warned about a sudden spike in hospitalizations around the country for lung injuries that appear to be caused by e-cigarette use. The Boston Globe reports Baker found the evidence compelling enough to push the typically reserved governor to take extreme action.

He also responded to the rising legal threat from the vaping industry, after at least one vape shop announced a lawsuit and the nonprofit American Vaping Association said it planned to support legal action. “If people choose to pursue the courts, that’s an available option to them, but we believe we’re doing the right thing,” Baker said.

He also dismissed concerns about medical marijuana users’ access to vaping devices, saying there are “many alternative uses available to people.”

In addition to the ban, Baker’s office announced it had instructed pharmacies to make nicotine therapy products, like gum and patches, available at low cost to people with insurance, a move that MassLive reports is also unprecedented.

And what about the scores of flabbergasted independent vape shop owners, who make up what the Washington Post recently called “the fastest-growing retail segment of the past decade” and “a miraculous small-business success story” but who can no longer sell their products? Baker has not outlined a plan to mitigate the problem.

Baker’s move, while more extreme than that of any other state so far, may have ripple effects around the country. Just one day after he announced the ban, Rhode Island said it would ban all flavored e-cigarette products, and Vermont and Maine are considering vaping bans of their own.