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The Montana Medical Association represents more than 1,400 physicians and other medical professionals throughout Montana. We are writing to express our support of the vaping ban proposed by Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). Delaying this action poses a significant health risk to the citizens of Montana.

This emergency ban is a necessary and welcome response to the outbreak of acute lung disease among people who vape, which as of last week has 1,479 confirmed cases and at least 33 deaths throughout the U.S. Recently a teenager became the first Montana victim of the acute lung illness.

In the case of an outbreak of serious illness, public health officials conduct a thorough investigation into possible causes. This investigation is currently underway, and the exact source of the illness has yet to be identified. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides regular updates; it has found that while a majority of people with lung disease are using THC products, there is a significant number who report using nicotine-only products. The CDC and your Montana physicians recommend everyone abstain from vaping while the number of deaths continues to rise.

Meanwhile, the tobacco and vaping industries are doing their best to undermine this investigation by spreading misinformation. We urge you not to listen to the tobacco lobby’s flood of misinformation, and to reject their interference to delay this emergency ban.

Even if we were to put concerns about this acute lung illness aside, our state and federal governments are long overdue to address the signs of a worsening vaping epidemic among our children and teens. An ever-increasing number of these products are ending up in our schools, and in the hands of teens and pre-teens. Cotton candy and green apple flavorings, among others, are clearly meant to appeal to children, teens and young adults. As a result, we see continued increases in use: 58% of high school students have vaped, and 30% do so regularly.

As school principals, teachers and doctors can tell you, even young children are using these products. They are disguised as pens, chap sticks, markers, USBs — impossible to keep out of classrooms.

There is plentiful evidence that nicotine is not safe for the developing brain, and we are doing irreparable harm to a generation of Montanans if we fail to act. The legal prohibitions on the sale of these products to children under 18 are clearly not enough to combat the appeal of the flavors and the image that the vaping industry intentionally seeks to propagate.

We, your doctors, already watch 1,600 Montanans die every year due to tobacco-related diseases. We know that those who vape are more likely to smoke, and that the vapor itself contains carcinogens and substances known to be toxic.

We call on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take forceful action to keep these products out of the hands of teens and children. We applaud Montana’s government for its response to the current crisis.

In weighing Montanans’ health against the profit-driven claims of the vaping industry, the choice is clear. Our health should be in the hands of the public health officials charged with our safety.

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Marc Mentel is president of the Montana Medical Association. 

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