Vaping challenge

Ron and Deanna Marshall of Hamilton's Freedom Vapes are part of a lawsuit filed recently that seeks to stop the state's planned ban on flavored vaping products. The case will be heard Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Ravalli County District Court.

A couple who owns vape shops in Hamilton, Missoula and Belgrade said a lawsuit is in the works that will seek a stay on Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposed temporary ban on flavored e-cigarettes.

Ron and Deanna Marshall said the ban would put them and other Montana vape shops out of business.

Last week, Bullock directed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to implement emergency administrative rules to temporarily prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The ban would begin Oct. 22 and last 120 days. It would include the sale of all flavored e-cigarette products, including flavored nicotine, THC and CBD vaping products sold both in Montana stores and online.

Bullock’s decision followed a national outbreak of e-cigarette-caused lung illness. Two cases have been confirmed in Montana in Gallatin and Yellowstone counties. As of last week, there have been 1,080 confirmed and probable cases, including 21 deaths in 48 states and one U.S. territory. More than half the cases involved patients under age 25.

The Marshalls said they were blindsided by the governor’s announcement last week.

“No one saw this coming,” Ron Marshall said. “What they’ve done is put us all out of business with this announcement. They say they exhausted all the administrative avenues, but that’s not true. They just went straight to an outright ban.

“We and our employees will end up losing our homes and losing everything,” Deanna Marshall said. “We are all mom-and-pop shops. Our customers who have been using our products will be forced to go back to smoking cigarettes.”

The Marshalls said that many of their customers vape as a way to wean themselves off nicotine found in combustible tobacco. The couple said that while they are careful not to sell their products to anyone under age 18, young people will still be able to get the products over the internet.

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“All the brick and mortar shops will be the only ones impacted by the ban,” Deanna Marshall said. “People will still be able to get it online.”

Ron Marshall said people ordering online can’t be certain that they aren’t purchasing a counterfeit vape product that can contain harmful contaminants. While their flavorings are all water-based, Marshall said people vaping oil-based products are also more susceptible to lung issues.

“Our customers are highly upset,” Ron Marshall said. “They feel like the government’s decision is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They are adults and their freedoms are being taken away.”

Some have told the Marshalls that they will go ahead and mix their own vape product once the ban goes into effect.

“That’s very dangerous,” Ron Marshall said. “If they don’t get the right flavoring or use an oil-based material, they can harm themselves. … This ban won’t make the problem go away. It will make it more of a problem.

“We tell our customers not to buy anything off the street,” he said. “We tell them not to use anything given to them if they don’t its source. If it’s something lent out, we say throw it out.”

The Marshalls said their hope is the governor will reconsider and talk with people in the industry to find a means to keep the product out of the hands of children.

“The worst-case scenario is this is going to get drug out pretty hard in court,” Ron Marshall said.