The Oregon Health Authority said the federal government’s planned ban on flavored vaping products falls short in protecting the public.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would prioritize enforcement actions to stop the sale of flavored e-cigarette cartridges – except menthol – and tobacco-flavored products.

Oregon stores saw sales drop 40 to 70% when the new lung illness first hit the headlines. But customers are now returning even in the face of a federal ban on many products.

Oregon stores saw sales drop 40 to 70% when the new lung illness first hit the headlines. But customers are now returning even in the face of a federal ban on many products.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

The agency also said it would ban the sale of flavored nicotine sold in open tank systems.

Jason Weber, the owner of Vape Crusaders Smokeless Solutions in Roseburg, called the ban a valid effort to stop teens from vaping.

“However I don’t think it’s ever good to ban a product,” he said. “I think good regulation would be the smarter route.”

Weber is a board member of the Oregon Vapor Trade Association and estimates that Oregon stores saw sales drop between 40% and 70% when news of vaping-related lung illnesses broke last year. 

But he thinks customers are returning.

“Most vape shop owners are happy because they’re still in business,” he said. “Yes, it sucks that a product is going to be taken off the market … but it’s still left a lot of tools to help people quit smoking.”

But while Weber sees the new FDA ban as a compromise, the Oregon Health Authority issued a statement saying the ban doesn’t go far enough. 

“While we recognize FDA’s intent, the proposed enforcement action falls short of its stated goal to protect the public’s health,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state health officer. “The Oregon Health Authority has repeatedly urged the FDA to ban all flavored tobacco products, without exceptions.”

State health officials say that the exception for menthol and tobacco flavors is a big loophole. Mint and menthol are among the most popular flavors for youth, and the tobacco industry has targeted African American communities with menthol marketing for decades, according to the state. 

OHA leaders also worry the FDA ban means people will still be able to mix their own vape flavors, drastically limiting efforts to reduce youth vaping.

About one in every four eleventh graders report currently using an e-cigarette or vaping products.

The OHA said it will continue to try to decrease the use of all vaping products by implementing Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed ban, which ran into legal trouble when the Oregon Court of Appeals placed a temporary hold on it in October.

“In Oregon, the ban on the sale of flavored nicotine and vaping products is still stayed by the courts, and not in enforcement,” Sidelinger said. “But we have many other resources out there to help people who are currently vaping who want to quit.”

It’s not just the FDA’s flavor ban that the OHA disputes. The OHA also views the vaping additive, vitamin E acetate, differently than the federal government.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that vitamin E acetate is closely associated with recent lung illnesses. The Oregon Health Authority agrees but Sidelinger said a significant number of local cases don’t involve vitamin E acetate.

“So while we appreciate the results from the national investigation,” he said, “they do not explain all of the cases in Oregon, and we continue to wait for more complete results so we can know what precisely is going on in Oregon and how it may or may not differ from the rest of the country.”

Congress recently raised the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. The OHA called that an important step to curb youth tobacco use. But the agency also said it’s not enough to stem the youth e-cigarette epidemic.

“This is one step along with a comprehensive enforcement of this law that can help keep teens and adolescents from vaping,” Sidelinger said. “But limiting access to flavors is another key component that we know can keep children from vaping … and keep them free of nicotine addiction for the rest of their lives.”

Oregon was one of the first states to raise the tobacco purchase age to 21, but it still experienced a nearly 80% increase in youth e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2019.

Meanwhile, Roseburg vape shop owner Jason Weber said he’s spending more time talking to legislators in Salem than dealing with his own business. He expects lawmakers to consider some sort of local flavor banning bill.