Op-Ed: Vape Ban Helps Black-Market Products Thrive


Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background. Banning flavored vaping products to discourage people from smoking electronic cigarettes. Health risk concept.

Karly Hamilton

Last month, with vaping-related deaths and illnesses on the rise, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker instituted a four-month ban on all vaping products.

“We as a Commonwealth need to pause sales in order for our medical experts to collect more information about what is driving these life-threatening, vaping-related illnesses,” Baker said in an announcement.

With the ban, the question remains how younger people, including high-schoolers, will react. Students now have even less access to the drug that many have become addicted to—nicotine.

According to the National Institutes of Health, over 37 percent of 12th-graders reported vaping in 2018, a dramatic increase from just below 28 percent the previous year.

School Nurse Beth Escobar has concerns about how the ban will affect students.

“I’m very concerned about our students vaping because of the physical and psychological consequences,” Escobar said. “With respect to the ban, I’m concerned that our students are going to go underground, to the black market, to get potentially unsafe and unsanitary vaping products.”

Koll Phillips ’21 does not support vaping, but he shared his own concerns.

“The ban is good because a lot of teens were using Juuls for the wrong reasons, but it’s bad because people who were using them to stop smoking no longer have access to the tools to help them stop,” Phillips said.

Even with the ban, the State House has yet to address concerns about minors purchasing untested and unregulated vaping products. Along these lines, I wonder if in deciding to ban all vaping products, Baker considered the demand for illicit products containing THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.

“There’s a huge market for what are now illicit cannabis goods, and they tend to be much cheaper than their legal counterparts,” David Abernathy, an executive from a cannabis investment and marketing research firm, said in a recent Washington Post story.

Baker is misguided in thinking that banning vaping products will produce a different result. In fact, some suffering from vaping-related illnesses report having used such illicit goods.

Regardless, many students here support the Governor’s action.

“I am 100 percent for banning vaping because it is harmful to your health,” Jacob Mejia Levy ’21 said.

“I support the ban,” Joseph Bahhady ’21 said. “Vaping is bad for your health and your immune system, and it can lead to severe health issues.”

I respect differing views, but I believe that by banning vaping, addicts are left with no alternative but to turn to the unregulated black market, which poses even greater health risks. This not only compounds a real and serious health crisis, but Baker’s actions also exemplify a blatant overstepping of power.

While I understand the intentions behind the ban, I worry about a surge in drug dealers and counterfeiters, who are happy to sell vaping products without any regard for public safety. It’s shortsighted to think that illicit cartridges won’t contain oils with contaminants far more dangerous than nicotine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “As of October 1, 2019, 1,080 lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette, or vaping, products have been reported to the CDC from 48 states and 1 U.S. territory,” including 15 deaths.

While all of these individuals reported using vaping products, most also admitted to using THC-containing products, which the CDC says could play a role in the outbreak. Furthermore, the organization also admits that much remains unknown, including” the specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries” in vaping products. 

Furthermore, The Washington Post also reported that “the nationwide investigation has found no particular vaping devices or products linked to all cases and is looking into potential contamination or counterfeits, as many victims report buying marijuana pods and other vape items on the street rather than from a store.”

Before banning vaping products, more research must be completed. Ultimately, however, individuals should maintain the right to choose what to put in their bodies, especially if that decision does not put others at risk. After all, Massachusetts is not taking any action to ban cigarettes, which, according to the CDC, “leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body.”

A handful of vape shops recently filed a lawsuit under the pretense that “the ban is unconstitutional and will do irreparable harm to their businesses.”

Craig O’Rourke, an attorney representing the vape shops, voiced strong feelings about the ban on his clients’ behalf.

“The declaration was arbitrary and capricious and enforcement of the ban denied my clients and other shop owners notice and opportunity,” O’Rourke said. “Those are fundamental due process rights that are guaranteed to all Americans.”

Only time will tell if the ban will have its intended effects. Meanwhile, I hope that nobody suffers from health complications by turning to the black market.