Brett Myers, Freedom Vapes

Brett Myers, a Freedom Vapes sales rep in Bozeman, said he was a heavy smoker at one time and turning to vape was the best way for him to quit tobacco products like cigarettes. On Thursday, the Gallatin City-County Board of Health approved weaving electronic nicotine devices into its Clean Indoor Air Act policy.

As Montana works toward a temporary ban on selling flavored vaping products, at least one vape shop owner plans to file a lawsuit to stop the action, which she says would close businesses.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced the 120-day ban Tuesday, which includes flavored nicotine, THC, and CBD vaping products. The ban is set to take effect Oct. 22.

Montana is the sixth state to try to keep the products off shelves as politicians say they’re responding to two public health crises tied to vaping — underage use and a lung illness that has sickened more than 1,000 people and killed at least 18.

Bullock’s move came the same day health officials announced a confirmed case of the illness in Gallatin County. It’s the second known Montana case. The first was reported in Yellowstone County on Sept. 30.

Matt Kelley, health officer with the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said the Gallatin County patient is in their 20s with a history of vaping nicotine, THC, and flavored products.

The person was hospitalized in September and is home recovering.

“These are not theoretical health risks. We’re seeing people nationwide who are being hospitalized and people need to understand that,” Kelley said.

Deanna Marshall, owner of Freedom Vapes, said Tuesday she plans to file a lawsuit challenging the governor’s ban before enforcement begins.

The company has shops in Bozeman, Belgrade and Hamilton. Marshall said 95% of Freedom Vape’s sales are from flavored liquids.

“This ban will shut every business in Montana that sell vape products primarily. No one can survive for four months without money coming in,” Marshall said. “I’d lose everything: my home, my shops, my employees.”

In an emailed statement, the governor’s office responded they’re confident the ban falls in line with state laws.

“Emergency rules allow the Department of Public Health and Human Services to respond to rapidly developing public health crises,” the statement said. “They are adopted in circumstances where there is an imminent threat to public health, safety or welfare, and the rules are temporary.”

The vape industry has continued to point toward black-market sells as the root of the problem.

The Centers for Disease Control has reported there’s not one element that ties together each case other than each patient has used e-cigarettes or vaping products. The latest national and regional findings suggest products containing THC play a role in the outbreak, according to the agency.

Bobby Devine, owner of Spark 1 dispensary, said the ban will be a financial hit for medical marijuana providers but one they can survive.

He estimated Spark1 has 1,500 medical marijuana cardholders that visit his five Montana locations, one of which is in Bozeman. Devine said while the shop stays away from fruity flavors, the majority of its vape products are flavored with “something indicative of what a whole plant extract should test like.”

“I’m truly in support of anything that protects people,” Devine said. “It is frustrating because I feel like we’re talking about two totally different things, lumping the medical marijuana world into the vape store world.”

Devine added Montana medical marijuana shops have to meet new state rules around testing the quality and safety of cannabis sold as medicine.

Much of the governor’s announcement Tuesday revolved around protecting youth. The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed nearly a third of Montana high school students use e-cigarettes.

Kelley said recent health surveys show one in four Gallatin County high school students reported vaping sometime in the past 90 days.

Both Montana cases involved people who were of legal smoking age. According to the CDC, 16% of patients with the illness are younger than 18.

Bob Connors, Bozeman schools superintendent, said Tuesday he doesn’t think vaping is a massive problem in the town’s schools but said if one student is doing it, it’s a problem.

“We’re going to fully support Gov. Bullock’s stance on this,” Conners said. “There are too many things we don’t understand about the unintended consequences of vaping.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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