A look at why RI can legally put a temporary ban on flavored e-cigs
The Rhode Island Department of Health, accompanied by State Police, started making the rounds this week at shops across the state to ensure all flavored vaping products are gone from the shelves.
The emergency regulations banning flavored e-cigarettes went into effect Friday, but a big question swirling around has been why the state can legally put a temporary moratorium in place to ban these flavored products?
Last month, Gov. Raimondo signed the emergency order saying the flavored products are marketed to kids, with the Health Department saying about 20% of high school kids regularly vape.
Two vaping-related illnesses have been reported in Rhode Island, and just on Monday, the first vaping-related death was announced in Massachusetts, adding to the more than a dozen total around the country.
According to David Logan, an injury law professor at Roger Williams University, this is an issue of public safety and not freedom of speech.
He said that in the eyes of the law, and based on information from the government, vaping has been linked to deaths, and it kills people quickly. This is enough to declare an emergency.
And when adding the fact that these products are accused of targeting kids, Logan said the government can protect the public any way it can, until they figure out what exactly is going on.
"The most central power that the government has to have is to be able to protect public safety," Logan said. "All the government is trying to do here is get the data to inform a sensible public policy choice which is hard to make on the fly."
The temporary ban lasts 120 days and can be extended by 60 days. According to Annemarie Beardsworth with the Department of Health, the state is keeping a close eye on the latest data to see what's best before handing down a policy, whether that's a permanent ban or not.
"Take a pause to really do a deep dive into the data and information," she said.
Another argument from vaping advocates is why a state cannot put a similar ban on cigarettes or alcohol?
Logan argues that with all of the regulations in place for those products, enough information is out there where, in the eyes of the law, one cigarette or drink cannot kill somebody.
"Alcohol and tobacco are both regulated by state and federal governments. "The opportunity for the industry to argue, for example, that [cigarettes] are not dangerous just using it once or twice. Those arguments have already been made," Logan said.
And with a thriving black market for e-cigarettes, things get complicated, according to Logan.
"Trying to control a product that's being bought in the black market rather than one that's sold through the traditional channels raises a whole different dimension of those problems as well," Logan said. "It's very unlikely a court would say that's an improper taking or that's an improper administrative action by the state. Five years from now if there's been no decision and the market's been destroyed because of the government not dealing with it very quickly, we might have a different conversation."
As for the inspections, the Department of Health said they've had no violations since the temporary ban went into effect.
As far as the State Police role, they're accompanying inspectors to make sure everything goes smoothly. If a retailer refuses to comply, State Police can step in and seize the product.
If in violation during the temporary ban, a retailer will not face any criminal charges. The Department of Health said they would face what's called a civil penalty.