HELENA – A judge has cleared the way for Montana officials to enforce a temporary emergency ban on flavored vaping products beginning Wednesday.
District Judge Jennifer Lint ruled Tuesday against vape shop owners who had sued to block the emergency ban from taking effect.
Lint said people’s health is threatened by the deadly outbreak of a lung illness tied to some vaping products and that flavored electronic cigarettes are making it easy for kids to become addicted to nicotine.
“Preventing further harm to the public health is more important than preventing economic harm to vapor product businesses,” Lint wrote.
With the ruling, Montana will join other states, including New York and Massachusetts, that have banned flavored e-cigarettes at the same time health officials are investigating vaping-related lung illnesses in the U.S. As of last week, there were 2,400 confirmed and probable cases of lung illnesses and 52 deaths nationwide have been attributed to vaping.
The 120-day ban will take effect Wednesday afternoon, said Marissa Perry, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Bullock.
The restrictions include the sale of all flavored e-cigarette products, including flavored nicotine, THC and CBD e-cigarette products, both in store and online. The rules do not require businesses to destroy their inventory.
Officials said the ban would give the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention time to identify the cause of the illnesses. Federal health officials are examining vitamin E acetate, an additive used as a thickening agent. When inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung functioning.
There have been five vaping-related lung illnesses and one death in Montana to date, according to the judge’s ruling.
Business owners argued that there was no connection between flavored vaping liquids and the rise of the lung injuries, which they said appear to be caused by black-market products. They also argued that they don’t sell to minors and that their products are used by people trying to quit or looking for a safer alternative to tobacco.
But the judge sided with state health officials, who said the rise of youth vaping and the unexplained increase in lung illnesses are two emergencies that left them no choice. Lint repeatedly said in her order that flavored vaping products provide an easy “on-ramp” to hook kids on nicotine, threatening the progress made in reducing tobacco use.
“This has always been about protecting our most vulnerable, and we are pleased that the court chose to stand with Montanans and their health by allowing the emergency rules to go forward,” Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan said in a statement.
Ron and Deanna Marshall, owners of one of the businesses that sued, Freedom Vapes, did not immediately return a message left at their Hamilton store.
Before the ruling, Freedom Vapes had advertised a “Happy (Resistance) Hour” for Wednesday afternoon. The shop had planned to offer half-off prices for flavored nicotine liquid “until a judge makes a ruling.”
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