Oregon state agencies that regulate cannabis and tobacco industries set the rules for a six-month ban on flavored vape products Friday. Other bans are likely in the future.
New rules from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority ban all tobacco and cannabis vape products containing flavors, from chocolate to menthol, and herbs to spices.
But tobacco-flavored vape and marijuana-flavored vape are not included in the ban.
Still, vaping businesses aren’t happy. They say widespread lung injuries only surfaced this summer, and flavors have been around for years.
State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger disagrees.
“We do know that in the past there have been acute lung injuries associated with flavors," Sidelinger said. "There’s a condition … called popcorn lung, which was first noticed in factory workers who prepared microwave popcorn and some of the artificial butter flavorings that went in."
But the targeting of flavors also helps the health authority focus on another priority: youth vaping.
"In Oregon almost one in four 11th graders report using a vaping product currently," Sidelinger said.
The temporary rules affect not only cannabis businesses, but also alcohol licensees that sell nicotine vaping products. That means authorities will be contacting up to 4,000 stores, bars and taverns to inform them of the ban.
Several other states, including Washington, New York, Michigan and Rhode Island, are also imposing temporary bans.
The illnesses first appeared in March, with symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. Most people who got sick said they vaped products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, but some said they vaped only nicotine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now given a name to the illness, EVALI, short for E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use Associated Lung Injury.
“I guess we will see if that sticks," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director at CDC.
The National Center for Health Statistics is also developing a new disease code for the illness, so it can be more easily tracked, diagnosed and recorded in hospitals.
“We are not seeing a meaningful drop off in new cases," Schuchat said. "And unfortunately many more people have been hospitalized with lung injury each week since we first advised the public about the national outbreak.”
Asked whether she thinks the CDC will ever get to the bottom of the illness, she said she thinks there will be multiple causes and potentially more than one root cause.
"So I think that the phenomenon we’re seeing is going to have an explanation," Schuchat said. "But it may not be tomorrow. It may take a few months.”
The national effort to investigate the illness has now found 1,299 cases in 49 states. Nine cases have been reported in Oregon and two deaths.
Some patients who’ve been hospitalized have had to return to hospital with further problems after being released. It’s not clear yet if those people started vaping again or just relapsed with old injuries.
Meanwhile Mitch Zeller, the director of the Food And Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products, said it's working with all federal partners to see what can be done. He said if more problem THC vaping products are identified, they'll take decisive action.
“FDA is prepared to use all of our authorities, including our tobacco product and drug authorities to the fullest extent possible, in order to protect the public health,” Zeller said.