Utah puts emergency limits on flavored e-cigarettes, as vaping illnesses rise

Starting Monday, only tobacco specialty shops will be allowed to sell flavored e-cigarettes, and they will be required to post notices on the dangers of vaping unregulated THC products, under emergency rules that Utah officials announced Wednesday.

The rules come the same week state health officials announced a drastic increase in the number of cases of vaping-related illnesses. In one week, the number of confirmed cases in Utah rose from 47 to 71, and 10 more potential cases are under investigation.

Under the new rules, all tobacco retailers that sell e-cigarette products are required to post notices “regarding the dangers of vaping unregulated THC products,” the Utah Department of Health wrote Tuesday in a news release. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have said most of the illnesses nationwide have been tied to unregulated THC products — a trend borne out in Utah, although THC products are illegal here.

Ninety-four percent of Utah’s patients reported vaping THC products, and 64 percent reported vaping nicotine, health officials said.

The new rules also limit the sale of flavored e-cigarette products to tobacco specialty shops, which are regulated and inspected by local health departments.

Juan Bravo, president of the Utah Vapor Business Association, said he supports that the health department is spreading the message about the harmful effects of unregulated THC products. But, he added, banning flavored products is “absolutely irresponsible.”

“There’s no correlation whatsoever with the THC cartridge injuries and the flavors whatsoever,” Bravo said. “This current rule could potentially put a lot of people out of business.”

Other retailers may continue to sell non-flavored e-cigarette products, health officials said.

(Image courtesy of the Utah Department of Health) Utah's tobacco specialty shops will be required to post this sign in their stores beginning Oct. 7, 2019 as part of an emergency rule implemented in response to an increase in vaping-related illnesses. Most cases were tied to unregulated THC products, which are illegal in Utah.

Of the 71 Utahns sickened after vaping, 45 have been hospitalized and 26 spent time in intensive care units, health officials wrote.

“Mounting evidence points to the vaping of unregulated THC products as a possible reason for this outbreak,” Joseph Miner, UDOH’s executive director, said in the news release. “Youth and young adults have been hit especially hard. We know many young people who vape THC initially vape nicotine, especially flavored nicotine. Moving these products to age-restricted specialty shops will restrict young people’s access to them and can reduce the number of users who eventually move on to vaping THC.”

Although Utah vape and smoke shops may not sell THC products, health officials said they can serve as a conduit for information on the outbreak. Many patients who reported using THC, officials said, also reported shopping for legal nicotine products at Utah shops.

“One of our only tools for addressing this outbreak right now is communication. And being able to communicate directly with individuals who are most at risk of developing lung injuries is a top priority,” said Ryan Bartlett of the UDOH Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

The rule takes effect Monday and will remain in place for 120 days. Officials said they will draft a permanent rule while the emergency rule is in place.