Illustration by Harley Turso
By Drew Gallant
As Governor Charlie Baker’s ban on vaping takes effect across the state, nothing actually changes for students and faculty at Cape Cod Community College (4Cs). Since September of 2014, the Board of Trustees has deemed the campus of 4Cs to be smoke free. This includes the use of electronic cigarettes and vapes of any kind. Violators will be subject to possible fines and disciplinary actions after being given a warning for a first offense.
Students are still vaping on campus regardless of Governor Baker’s four-month ban or the official campus rules. The college seems to be split, with some students thinking that the statewide ban is a good move, while others are up in arms over the issue.
“[The ban] was too soon,” said Jamie Johnson, a student at 4Cs. “It has to be a nationwide ban for change to happen. There’s nothing stopping people from New Hampshire or Florida mailing vaping products to Massachusetts. It’s like fireworks on the fourth of July.”
Other students are onboard on the Governor’s call to rid these products from our state. Many people at 4Cs praise Baker for his quick actions in order to really study the matter further.
“It’s a smart move health-wise, but it will affect many small businesses,” said 4Cs student Anthony Defonzo. “People are scrambling to get more after the ban went into effect, whether it be from another state or shops in our home state not following the rules. But overall, it’s a good move because these people, especially minors, don’t use [vaping products] in moderation. These kids who have never smoked before are using them like toys.”
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani denied the vaping industry’s request for a temporary reprieve from the ban while their legal challenge plays out in Boston federal court. Talwani decided that the plaintiffs did not show they would likely succeed on the merits of the case or that the “balance of hardships” weighed in their favor. Talwani had previously stated that the legal motion was premature and that the public health concerns prompting the ban likely outweigh any short-term impacts to local businesses.
On October 7, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported the first vaping-related death in the state. Terry MacCormark, a spokesperson for Governor Baker, issued a statement following the death:
“Governor Baker is saddened to learn that another life has been lost to a vaping-related illness and will continue to work with the CDC, Department of Public Health and the medical community to collect more information about what is making people sick. On September 24th, the administration declared a public health emergency and implemented a four-month temporary ban on the sale of all vaping products to analyze reported cases of illness and consider next steps.”
As of October 14, over 1,000 lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette or vaping products have been reported to the CDC from across 48 states. Throughout the country, 29 deaths have been confirmed across 15 different states. No singular product or company has been singled out as a link to all cases of vaping related lung injury.
The director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, told Esquire that he’s very concerned that these growing statistics are only “the tip of the iceberg.” Redfield also touched on the varieties of e-cigarettes, ‘bootleg’ pods and even some emerging problems that Americans may have not yet considered.
“I think that the health consequences of vaping is something that has actually gone unrecognized for some period of time,” said Redfield. “And in the current situation, there may have been new complicating factors, particularly with THC and the sort of street market where there may be other ingredients. That may have further exacerbated the problem.”
There has been some speculation in the media that these illnesses are solely caused by THC vaping, and not nicotine. Redfield went on to pump the breaks on that kind of speculation.
“There is a tendency to try to come up with a single answer,” Redfield said. “I think we have a high degree of confidence that there’s going to be multiple answers. These products really weren’t intended to be deposited in the alveoli of your lungs. Whether it’s THC, or oil, or vitamin E…I think we’ll find there’s a number of products that lead to what we would call a chemical pneumonitis.”
Redfield understands the backlash from the vaping community, but reiterated that it’s important to stay away from these products until we find out what’s going on. Until then, people are urged to solely use products that have been approved by the FDA.
“We recommend that you consider one of the multiple FDA-approved products that have gone through the process for efficacy and safety as alternatives to e-cigarettes, which, truthfully, are not products that had been approved,” said Radfield. “The important message is to recognize that you have no idea what you’re inhaling. And the alveoli of the lung is a very sensitive tissue. When it’s damaged, it can really see compromised function – that is, to be able to exchange our oxygen and carbon dioxide and allow us to have, if you will, life-saving breaths.”
Governor Baker’s ban will give precious time to scientists, including Dr. Radfield, who are still working to develop a clearer picture of the implications of ingesting such products. This changes nothing at 4Cs, where all forms of vaping (and smoking) are outlawed. The Cape Cod community as a whole should proceed with caution until more facts come to light.