An Oregon ban on sales of all flavored vaping products—both cannabis and nicotine—will go into effect this Tuesday, October 15. The ban will last 180 days, giving state agencies time to conduct research and develop new regulations for vaping products.
Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) approved the ban this afternoon, a week after Governor Kate Brown requested it be enacted. Oregon is one of several municipalities that have enacted temporary bans on vape products, following news of a mysterious vaping-related illness that has injured over 1,000 people and left 24 dead (including two Oregonians).
At a press conference this afternoon, OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks said that while it’s understood that consumers of vape products are taking “some level of risk” by vaping, it is the state’s job to manage that risk.
“Like with any other public policy, it’s about, 'How much risk do we need to protect each individual from, and how much risk do they assume?'” Marks said. “In this agency, it’s going to be a balance… [but] we need to keep people safe while doing it.”
The ban will cover all flavored vape products—which, according to an exhaustive press release from the OLCC, means “products that contain natural or artificial flavors including, but not limited to, chocolate, coffee, cocoa, menthol, mint, wintergreen, vanilla, honey, coconut, licorice, nuts, fruit, any candy, dessert, alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage, herb or spice.”
The ban will also extend to vape products flavored with non-cannabis terpenes—a name for the organic compound found in plants, including cannabis, that affects scent and flavor. This means vape products that are 100 percent cannabis will still be allowed.
According to OLCC officials, non-cannabis terpenes can include potentially dangerous additives—and those ingredients are sometimes protected as trade secrets that aren't explicitly identified on the label.
Cannabis companies are required to include general information about whether a product contains flavors and non-cannabis terpenes on the label, meaning dispensaries should be able to distinguish between permissible and impermissible products.
“If it has a non-marijuana terpene or some other flavoring ingredient, a compliant label would list that,” said TJ Sheehy, the manager of OLCC’s Marijuana Technical Unit, at the press conference.
Sheehy said that although OLCC’s cannabis tracking system is not able to provide precise numbers, he estimates the vape ban will affect only about 10 percent of Oregon’s total recreational cannabis product sales.
Cannabis industry professionals at the press conference scoffed when they heard that figure.
Rachel Knox, a Portland doctor who studies the health effects of cannabis, told the Mercury she thought the ban was short-sighted, and emblematic of a bigger problem with the state's approach to regulation "not being informed by science." She compared vape products to cigarettes and alcohol—while both substances have caused exponentially more deaths, the state isn't moving to ban them.
"Are more people going to start smoking cigarettes now?" Knox asked.
There are an estimated 4,000 tobacco retailers in Oregon, and it's estimated the majority of them sell nicotine vape products.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will enforce the nicotine side of the ban, with the help of local police authorities and secret shoppers. OLCC officials will begin calling all licensed cannabis retailers this weekend to make sure they understand the particulars of the ban, and start conducting random store visits once it takes effect on Tuesday.
While the ban is in effect, Brown will convene a task force to consider the best strategies for long-term vape product regulation. At the same time, OHA will conduct a public education campaign encouraging people to quit vaping and the OLCC will consider how it can strengthen its regulations around cannabis vape products.
It isn’t clear, however, whether the OLCC has the resources necessary to do the job.
While the OLCC currently requires testing for mold and mildew in all cannabis products, Marks said “we haven’t had all the technology and focus” for additional regulations. Marks noted that Washington state recently hired a public health officer for its recreational cannabis program, and that he’d like to see Oregon make a similar investment.
“We will do some testing and sampling of products,” Marks said at the press conference. “But one of the issues here is, who’s qualified to do that testing, and what testing capacity exists in-state or even nationally at this point?”