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Health department announces new rules related to vaping illnesses

Some of the THC vaping cartridges taken from a bust in Iron County. Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

SALT LAKE CITY — Starting next Monday, tobacco retailers in Utah must post notices about the dangers of vaping, part of new rules aimed at addressing a spate of vaping-related lung injury cases.

A growing concern

The Utah Department of Health rolled out the emergency rule Wednesday morning, two days after new numbers showed at least 71 cases of vaping-related illness in the state.

According to a statement from the health department’s Tobacco Prevention & Control Program, posted notices must alert customers to “the dangers of vaping unregulated THC products,” and will also restrict the sale of flavored vape or e-cigarette products to those specialty retailers.

“Utah has been hit especially hard in the national outbreak of lung injury cases,” the statement reads. Of the 71 confirmed cases and 10 more under investigation, “Forty-five of these individuals had to be hospitalized, and 26 of them spent time in the intensive care unit.”

New vaping rules take aim at younger smokers

Health department officials suspect THC, rather than nicotine, may be at the heart of the outbreak. According to the UDOH, 94% of patients in Utah self-reported vaping THC products.

Additionally, the evidence shows that the illnesses hit young adults and teens hard which is why the new vaping rules are aimed at the products those customers use.

“We know many young people who vape THC initially vape nicotine, especially flavored nicotine,” said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of UDOH. “Moving these products to age-restricted specialty shops will restrict young people’s access to them and can reduce the number of users who eventually move on to vaping THC.”

Taking action

Under state law, tobacco retailers fall under the regulation of local health departments. Health departments provide permits and inspect the businesses; the are restricted to customers over the age of 19, which is the legal smoking age in Utah.

The state health department is giving those retailers until Oct. 7, 2019, to comply with the new vaping rules. As an emergency rule, it will remain in place for 120 days while health officials work to get a permanent rule in place.