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Washington ban on flavored vape products stands, as CDC says it found link to vaping illness

This Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 photo shows a vitamin E acetate sample during a tour of the Medical Marijuana Laboratory of Organic and Analytical Chemistry at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, N.Y. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said fluid extracted from 29 lung injury patients who vaped contained the chemical compound in all of them. (Hans Pennink / AP)

Flavored vape products, including flavored THC products, will remain banned in Washington state for the next 120 days, after a Thurston County judge threw out a temporary restraining order against the state on Friday.

The ruling came the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a possible breakthrough in the effort to determine the cause of vaping-related illness.

The legal fight in Washington began soon after the State Board of Health banned flavored vaping products in early October with an emergency rule, following an executive order from Gov. Jay Inslee.

The Vapor Technology Association and Baron Enterprises LLC sued the Washington State Board of Health and the Department of Health later the same month and asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the state’s ban from going into effect.

Judge Chris Lanese rejected requests for a temporary restraining order in a Friday ruling.

The Vapor Technology Association could not be reached for comment about whether it plans to appeal the ruling.

The next court hearing in the case is set for February.

The Washington Department of Health defended the flavor ban as necessary, especially to keep youth from using vapor products.

“The ban of flavored vapor products is necessary to immediately prevent more youth from being attracted to vaping and putting themselves at risk for severe lung injury, as well as nicotine addiction,” a statement from the department said. “Adults who choose to continue using vapor products have the freedom to choose tobacco flavored vapor products from licensed retailers, as tobacco flavored vapor products remain on the market legally.”

Inslee’s executive order outlines a plan to control vaping and related lung-disease cases with both legislative action and rules.

Washington state health officials have identified 14 such cases statewide, including two in Spokane.

Health officials have had a hard time determing the specific cause of vaping-related illness, but the CDC announced a potential breakthrough in their investigation on Friday.

The agency said it identified 29 cases of vaping-related illness connected to vitamin E acetate found in biological samples from patients. None of these samples or cases are from Washington.

The CDC’s determination comes as other recent studies have shown that some vaping liquids contain vitamin E acetate, which can be dangerous when inhaled.

Vitamin E acetate is usually used to dilute other substances, including in cosmetics, said Spokane Regional Health District Officer Bob Lutz. And while the substance can be used topically or ingested safely, it is not meant to be inhaled.

When vitamin E is heated in a vape pen, the toxic gas ketene can be released, recent research found, and can burn the lung.

The majority of the samples with vitamin E acetate that the CDC released also contained THC. Lutz said that products containing the vitamin E acetate, used to dilute the THC, are likely not coming from stores, but instead are bought illegitimately.

Not all vape products, including the liquids, disclose their chemical ingredients, however. The Washington State Board of Health also sought to change that in their emergency rule, as well as requiring vapor retailers to post warning signs in their stores.

“Going forward, there is a requirement that all (vaping) solutions will have to identify all ingredients,” Lutz said.

Gov. Inslee’s executive order requests that ingredient disclosure be required for all non-THC vapor products, including all compounds used in the production of the liquids. This proposal will go to the Legislature in 2020.

Starting in January, all tobacco and vaping products will be illegal for use by any person in Washington under the age of 21.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.