Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Height of Irresponsibility: Massachusetts Department of Public Health Tells Public the Cause of Respiratory Disease Outbreak is Unknown

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) proclaimed to residents of the Commonwealth that it has no idea what is causing the outbreak of respiratory illness that has affected more than 2,000 people and killed 47 throughout the country.

The proclamation came on a day when the Public Health Council voted to rescind the emergency order that banned the sale of all e-cigarettes in the state.

According to an article in Boston Magazine, the Department of Public Health told reporters: "We don’t understand what is causing these illnesses. From a public health point of view, we cannot recommend that anybody use vaping or e-cigarette products at this time."

In a press release issued by DPH yesterday, it stated: "The cause of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) remains unknown and under investigation at both the state and federal level. The Department of Public Health recommends that people not use e-cigarettes or vaping products."

The Rest of the Story

This is the height of irresponsibility. Many people - especially youth and young adults - continue to develop life-threatening respiratory failure, primarily from the consumption of black market THC products that contain vitamin E acetate oil as a thickening agent, yet the Massachusetts Department of Public Health claims that it has no idea what is causing these illnesses.

Both the CDC and the FDA have concluded that vaping THC products that contain vitamin E acetate oil is causing the bulk of cases of the outbreak, yet DPH is telling Massachusetts residents that the cause remains unknown.

The CDC found that 100% of case patients whose lung fluids were tested revealed the presence of vitamin E acetate, yet the Department of Public Health claims that we have no idea what is going on -- it remains entirely a mystery what is causing this outbreak.

Who, or what, is the Massachusetts Department of Public Health trying to protect? The black market marijuana industry? It is certainly not protecting the public health. On the contrary, it is putting the health of residents of the Commonwealth, especially young people, at great risk. After all, the public needs to understand that black market THC vape carts are--at the very least--playing a major role in the outbreak and must absolutely be avoided. Telling the public to avoid all e-cigarette, or vaping products is so vague a warning that it is essentially meaningless. Kids need to know that they absolutely should not be vaping THC vape carts. They need to be explicitly told that use of THC vape carts could be life-threatening.

Even if there is a chance that some small proportion of the cases are being caused by something else, there is no justification for hiding from the public the fact that the majority of cases are being cause by THC vape cartridges. There is no justification for hiding from the public the fact that vitamin E acetate oil, a thickening agent that is a viscous oil, has been identified in the lungs of every outbreak patient tested so far.

Ironically, the absolute height of irresponsibility was the Department of Public Health's decision - adopted by the Public Health Council - to rescind the emergency ban on the sale of e-cigarettes. Let me explain exactly what I mean because as readers know, I opposed the emergency order in the first place as it pertains to the sale of e-cigarettes at retail stores.

I do not believe that there is any evidence that e-cigarettes are causing the outbreak. However, based on the Department of Public Health's statement that the cause of the outbreak remains unknown, how can it possibly rescind the emergency order? How can it possibly allow the sale of e-cigarettes in the Commonwealth if it does not know what is causing the outbreak?

The entire justification for the emergency ban on e-cigarettes in the first place was that since DPH doesn't know the cause, it has to err on the side of caution and ban the sale of all e-cigarettes. Now, without having identified the cause, the DPH is suddenly throwing caution to the wind and allowing the sale of e-cigarettes. I can't think of anything more irresponsible than knowingly putting the public at risk.

My point is not that the public is actually being put at risk because there is not one iota of solid evidence that e-cigarettes are contributing to the outbreak. My point is that based on the position of DPH - that the cause of the outbreak is unknown - they are knowingly putting the health of the public at risk by allowing the sale of e-cigarettes.

In this context, the flavor issue is moot. There is certainly no evidence that the flavorings are what is causing the outbreak. Based on the DPH's justification for its ban on e-cigarette sales, there is no rational basis for it now to rescind that emergency order and allow the sale of any e-cigarettes, whether flavored or not.

The rest of the story is that the premature cancellation of the e-cigarette sales ban demonstrates that what is really going on in Massachusetts is that the Department of Public Health apparently has used the respiratory disease outbreak to push through its desired agenda of banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. By conflating the respiratory disease outbreak with the general problem of youth vaping, the Department has successfully fooled both the public and policy makers into believing that e-cigarettes are causing youth to suffer severe respiratory failure. And that hysteria is what convinced the legislature to enact the ban on flavored e-cigarettes.

It is scary to think that the Department of Public Health, which is entrusted with protecting the public health, would knowingly put the health and lives of residents of the Commonwealth at risk. But that is exactly what they are essentially doing by rescinding the emergency order. If the emergency order was justified on September 25 because we didn't know the cause of the outbreak, then the order is certainly still justified on December 11, when--according to DPH--we still don't know the cause of the outbreak.

That DPH and the Public Health Council are willing to knowingly put lives at risk to advance a legislative agenda should give all of us pause.

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