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Half of NC Voters Support Potential Vape Ban, New Survey Indicates

by: Tristan Dufresne,

GREENVILLE, N.C. — A new survey and report by two professors at East Carolina University’s Center for Survey Research found that half of North Carolina voters would support a statewide ban on the sale of nicotine vape products.

The ECU poll, conducted in early October, also indicates that 27 percent of state voters would object to an e-cigarette ban.

“The results were surprising to us,” said Jonathan Morris, who co-authored the survey along with colleague Peter Francia. “Based on our numbers, if the state legislature decided to move on this, they would have two-to-one support [from voters], and that’s hard to get.” Twenty-three percent of respondents neither opposed nor supported a ban on vape sales, and the survey had a margin of error of 3 percent.

Opinions favoring such a ban skewed toward older voters, while 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-old voters opposed such a product ban.

On August 27, NC Attorney General Josh Stein told media that the state is opening individual suits against eight e-cigarette and vaping product distributors and manufacturers. The suits allege that companies target children and ignore the requirement to verify consumers’ ages.

"One look at their marketing materials demonstrates just how egregious their sales tactics are — with flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, unicorn, and graham cracker, they're clearly targeting young people," Stein said. “To teenagers, the health and addiction risks of vaping are simply too high.”

The eight companies being sued are VapeCo Distribution, Electronic Tobacconist, Electric Lotus, Direct eLiquid, Beard Vape, Tinted Brew, Juice Man and EonSmoke.

The Los Angeles–based VapeCo Distribution agreed to pull its products from store shelves in North Carolina and halt all deliveries in state upon being sued. On October 7, Electronic Tobacconist was issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting North Carolina sales, and three other companies are prohibited from sales under preliminary injunctions until their suits are settled.

Juul, one of the most widely distributed e-cigarette brands in the United States, was slapped with a nearly identical suit by Stein in May. North Carolina was the first state to sue Juul, followed by South Carolina. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois and the District of Columbia all began investigations into the company earlier this year.

The Trump administration has said that it is is considering a ban on flavored vaping products, while many states take action on their own: on October 10, Washington’s State Board of Health banned flavored vaping products for 120 days, and on September 24, Governor Charlie Baker banned all vaping products in Massachusetts, declaring a public health emergency.

According to a statement issued by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on October 29, “the number of North Carolina cases of severe lung injury associated with e-cigarette use or vaping continues to rise with 61 cases in people ranging in age from 13 to 72.”

Vape liquid, or "juice," generally consists of flavorings, water and either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin (sweet, colorless liquid compounds). E-cigarettes contain nicotine within the liquid, but other psychoactive compounds can also be found in e-juice, such as caffeine or THC. North Carolina defines vapor products as being able to heat nicotine, and nicotine’s danger to young brains is the focus of the attorney general’s lawsuits.

E-cigarette-and-vaping-associated lung injury has been abbreviated to EVALI, and on October 11, the CDC released treatment advice. Symptoms of the ailment include coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, vomiting and nausea.

The NC DHHS statement read, “The North Carolina cases are among a rising outbreak reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 1,604 cases and 34 deaths in the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands as of Oct. 22. The acute lung injury cases have occurred in the context of a rapid rise of e-cigarette use by young people.” The CDC increased the death toll to 39 on November 5.

Seventy-nine percent of patients in the United States with identified e-cigarette and vaping associated lung injury (EVALI) are under 35 years old, 40 percent are between 18 and 24, and 14 percent are under 18.

The CDC announced on November 8 that they are investigating vitamin E acetate as their first “potential chemical of concern” in EVALI cases. The CDC had taken lung fluid samples from 29 EVALI patients throughout 10 states, and the vitamin additive was in all of them. In contrast, the samples had nicotine 62 percent of the time and THC 82 percent of the time. In North Carolina, the DHHS reported 70 percent of EVALI patients vaped nicotine and 80 percent vaped THC. Vitamin E acetate was not reported.

The latest information from the CDC related to EVALI can be found on their website, updated every Thursday.

However, not everyone believes that health concerns are what is primarily driving the anti-vaping legal actions.

Charles Harris, co-owner of Chapel Hill vape shop Local Liquids, believes politicians “are trying to see what will stick, and they are trying to demonize the industry such that they can extort an MSA-style agreement out of it.”

Harris is referring to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, a 1998 agreement by four major tobacco companies to pay 46 states into perpetuity for the health costs caused by smoking. It included provisions against marketing to young people.

Harris calls the anti-vape lawsuits “exploratory” and “political.” Even if the states aren’t motivated to get potential payments from vape companies, they are motivated to protect current payments by tobacco companies, Harris suspects.

“Juul started cannibalizing cigarette sales to such an extent that it started to threaten tobacco bonds issued [to] municipal governments,” said Harris.

States that wanted to get money upfront from the 1998 agreement sold tobacco settlement securitization bonds (TSSBs, or just tobacco bonds), which are backed up by Big Tobacco’s perpetual payments. Those payments are calculated by the quantity of cigarettes shipped annually. As of May this year the market for TSSBs was valued at $85 billion.

The link between rising vape usage and lowered TSSB value was taken as fact by Citigroup analysts quoted in a May 5 Bloomberg News article. The analysts were predicting a comeback for Big Tobacco, and therefore tobacco bonds, because a tobacco-heating device that could replace vapes had just been approved by the FDA.

Similarly, Morningstar, an investment research firm, predicted in September that Big Tobacco will profit from vape bans — as long as current vapers don’t quit or go to the black market for their habit.

Whether health, trend or money drives them, the vape bans are gaining ground. So how will local users cope?

Professor Morris, co-author of the ECU survey, is a senior polling scientist and a professor of political science. He also vapes. He started vaping to aid in quitting his cigarette habit, as many adults have done.

Morris said he worries that public support for vaping bans may be the consequence of a political fad, rather than concern based on facts. He hopes voters “will be able to sort out fact from sweeping accusation” as the investigation into vaping continues.

Carrboro resident and e-cigarette consumer Russell Bowen started vaping to satisfy his nicotine addiction after he quit smoking cigarettes. He told the Sundial that if North Carolina does ban flavored vaping products, he “would make a serious effort to avoid” returning to tobacco.

“I work with kids, so I really shouldn't smell like smoke at work,” Bowen told the Sundial. “Honestly, though? I would probably start smoking cigarettes immediately.”

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