Gov. Steve Bullock’s order to temporarily ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes was heralded this week by state health officials. Montanans who rely on e-cig sales, however, say Bullock’s move will devastate their livelihoods, and they plan to sue.
Bozeman’s Deanna Marshall has a very bleak assessment of Gov. Bullock’s order to temporarily halt flavored e-cig sales.
"We’ll have to close and lay off our 12 employees."
Marshall owns Freedom Vapes, an independent e-cig retailer with stores in Bozeman, Belgrade and Hamilton. The business is a member of the Montana Smoke Free Association; a trade group of about 15 vape shops.
Marshall says the group plans to mount a legal challenge to block the temporary ban, but has yet to file a complaint in court.
"All these shops – 95% of their revenue is from flavored e-liquids. There’s no sense in staying open if you can’t sell that. No business can survive a four-month temporary ban without income."
Bullock’s 120-day ban on flavored e-cig sales takes effect October 22. The administration says it’s a response to widespread underage use and a mysterious lung illness that, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has killed 29 nationally and sickened nearly 1,300 nationwide.
Two non-fatal cases have been confirmed in Montana.
Jessica Rhoades is Gov. Bullock’s health policy advisor.
"Once we confirmed that Montana had its first case of vaping-related pulmonary illness, the governor asked us to take action and look at what options we might have to protect kids in our state," Rhoades says.
But vape store owners like Deanna Marshall say no one reached out to them for input. They pin the blame for the rash of pulmonary illnesses on black market and THC e-cig products.
THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
"Emergency rules are designed for situations where immediate action is warranted," Rhoades says.
Even if, says Rhoades, that means some businesses could be adversely affected.
"This isn’t about going after anybody. This is about keeping kids safe. Unfortunately, these products are associated with illness and death across the U.S, and that’s our first priority."
It’s unclear when a challenge to Montana’s temporary ban may come.
An appellate court has granted a temporary restraining order on a similar ban in New York state.