Missoula health department ready to enforce ban on flavored vaping products, if enacted

While a temporary prohibition on the sale of flavored vaping products is on hold pending the outcome of a hearing in a Ravalli County court, the City-County Health Department in Missoula is prepared to enforce the ban if it goes into effect.

Until that happens, the local health department will work to promote good health while investigating any reports of Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury, or VAPI, within Missoula County.

The state has recorded 3 confirmed cases of vaping-related lung injury and one death. None of them have occurred in Missoula County.

“We’re in a wait-and-see mode as far as compliance and enforcement, but not in terms of disease investigation and health promotion,” said Ellen Leahy, director of the local health department. “We will continue to investigate reports of the disease and try to figure out what’s going on.”

Gov. Steve Bullock on Oct. 8 directed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to implement a temporary ban on the sale of flavored vaping products. The rule was set to go into effect this week.

With the prohibition looming, the local health department prepared on a number of fronts to enforce the ban and ensure local case providers understood the definition of VAPI.

“We wanted to ensure our infectious disease nurses had the capacity to continue to investigate all reported suspected cases,” Leahy said. “We also wanted to respond to complaints of flavored products being on the shelf.”

But last week, three Montana vape shops filed suit in District Court in Hamilton, asking a judge to block the state’s temporary ban on the sale of flavored products. District Judge Jennifer Lint issued a temporary restraining order preventing the rule until a hearing takes place later this month.

The local health department has placed its enforcement measures on hold until then.

“We’re not doing anything on compliance with these rules – it’s all on hold,” said Leahy. “The whole system is trying to figure out what’s going on. We’re continuing to get reports and investigate reports of Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury.”

If the ban goes into effect, Leahy said, the health department will be prepared to respond to complaints.

She said complaints about online sales will be handled by the state, while DPHHS will conduct checks on medical marijuana providers. The local health department will conduct spot checks on the 189 tobacco retailers across Missoula County.

“Some of that depends on how much we get in complaints,” said Leahy. “These spot checks aren’t meant to be stings. They’re meant for us to figure out if we have widespread compliance with the rule, or what steps we need to take to get the flavored vaping products off the shelves.”

Leahy said removing the products is intended to reduce access to teens, who comprise the majority of flavored vaping users. She said 30% of high school students vape on a regular basis, while 58% have tried it.

“Regardless of what the intent is of having flavored vape products, that’s the effect,” said. “The effect is that more kids are using vape products and getting addicted to nicotine than would otherwise.”