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Gov. Inslee issues executive order in response to what he calls vaping 'health crisis'

This March 15, 2017 file photo shows a vape belonging to Branden Kempt, who works at the Future Vapor store in Seattle, rests on the store's counter.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
This March 15, 2017 file photo shows a vape belonging to Branden Kempt, who works at the Future Vapor store in Seattle, rests on the store's counter.

Washington has become the latest state to pursue a ban on certain vaping products that are suspected of causing severe lung injuries in Washington and across the country.

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order aimed at banning both nicotine and THC flavored vaping products.

Inslee called the outbreak of severe lung disease a “health crisis.”

“Consumers in this country have unfortunately been lulled into this sense that if you buy something, there is some regulatory body that will protect you from dangerous chemicals in these products,” Inslee said. “That doesn’t exist today either in the United States or in the state of Washington.”

So far, seven cases of lung disease linked to vaping have been reported in Washington state.

Nationally, 12 people have died from a vaping linked disease. More than 800 have fallen ill, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal health officials still don’t know the cause of these cases. Many of those who have become ill said they vaped THC, while others used both nicotine and THC products. Some only vaped nicotine.

Inslee’s order also instructs Washington’s cannabis regulatory agency to investigate all the ingredients in THC vaping products and to immediately ban any that are identified as the source or cause of the outbreak.

Cannabis dispensaries also are being required to post signs discouraging consumers from using vaping products.

The governor has asked the state Board of Health to vote on the measures at the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 9.

In a statement, Vicki Christophersen, the executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, said it respects Inslee’s “focus on public safety as the motivation for his decision to issue this temporary ban."

“The vacuum caused by a lack of real information and understandable fear and concern for public safety must be addressed with rigorous and accurate data, evaluation and analysis,” the statement said. 

Brian Smith, a spokesperson for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, said they are gathering additional information from licensed marijuana processors about all the ingredients in their vaping products.

“With nearly all vaping products, whether it’s THC or non-THC, there is still a lot unknown,” Smith said.

The state does require cannabis products be tested for things such as potency, moisture and toxins. But Smith said those regulations are not necessarily looking for some of the compounds that might be causing these vaping illnesses.

Some suspect additives and cutting agents could be the culprit.

“There needs to be more done to ensure that it is safe,” said Shannon Stevens, laboratory director for Confidence Analytics, based in Redmond.

Stevens said additives can be used to dilute the cannabis oil as a “cost-saving strategy.”

“There are many ingredients that have not been verified as safe for inhalation,” she said. “You get the required tests, but there is no regulation against these cutting agents right now."

Gov. Inslee said he also intends to work with state lawmakers to draft legislation that would permanently ban flavored products, require disclosures of all ingredients, increase regulatory oversight and clarify state health officials' authority when faced with this kind of public health threat.

“I wanted to do more by this executive order, I wanted to go further than this,” Inslee said. “We are not done with this discussion.”

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.