New York became the second state in the nation to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes as the number of vaping-related lung illnesses continues to rise across the country and have been linked to eight deaths.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took swift action last week using an emergency and a vote from the city’s Public Health and Health Planning Council to outlaw the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which are popular among teens.
“In four years, the percentage of high school users who use e-cigarettes and vaping has increased 160 percent. Forty percent of 12th graders now vape. Twenty-seven percent of high school students are vaping,” Cuomo said at a press conference announcing his executive action. “Manufacturers of fruit and candy-flavored e-cigarettes are intentionally and recklessly targeting young people, and today we're taking action to put an end to it.”
As of Thursday, 530 probable cases of vaping-related lung illnesses have been reported from 38 states and one U.S. territory, according to a new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The rash of illnesses began in April and has been linked to seven deaths, the latest being flagged by health officials in California.
The CDC’s demographic report shows that nearly three-quarters are male, two-thirds between 18 and 34. Sixteen percent are 18 or younger. And about half the subjects of these cases are 25 year old or younger.
“Most patients have reported using e-cigarette products containing THC,” the CDC reported. “Many have reported using THC and nicotine. Some have reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.”
Calls for Action
In New York, as of September 9, the State Department of Health has received 41 reports from doctors of “severe pulmonary illness among patients from 15 to 46 years old who were using at least one cannabis-containing vape product before they became ill. However, all patients reported recent use of various vape products.”
Political figures at every level have been calling for action on the vaping products since health officials found that the cases of lung illness were more widespread than they previously knew.
Last week, the Trump Administration said that the Food and Drug Administration would move to develop guidelines to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market, with the exception of tobacco. Additionally, Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore, that would ban the flavored products and as well as apply cigarette taxes on the devices.
Action to achieve this proposal has not moved as quickly on a federal level, but the retailer Walmart has taken matters into their own hands and announced late last week that it planned to pull e-cigarettes from its shelves.
A Push Against Menthol
But State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal isn’t going to count on the federal government, or her state’s executive office, to outlaw the flavored e-cigarettes.
“When it comes to the federal government, I’ll believe it when I see it,” Rosenthal said. “Trump makes a lot of promises that never come to fruition.”
Rosenthal also said the state cannot rely solely on executive action, but that legislation would be the best way to get e-cigarettes off the shelves. Plus, Rosenthal’s legislation, which she initially introduced in 2017, includes a ban of minted menthol, and Cuomo’s order does not.
“Fifty-four percent of kids who vape say they started with menthol,” Rosenthal said. “It’s kind of like an entry way.”
Since 2012, Rosenthal has been pushing legislation to crack down on the sale of these products to minors. Most recently, she helped raise the legal smoking age in the state of New York from 18 to 21.
Rosenthal said that there still is not a lot of research and information about the possible consequences of using e-cigarettes; but, she said that it is known that minors with developing brains and bodies should not be exposed to nicotine, and that is what has happened as vaping has become more popular.
“Because of the aggressive marketing and the flavors widely available, teenagers are now addicted to nicotine, which rewires their brain and creates a reward loop,” Rosenthal said. “It’s why they spend much of the school day vaping in the bathroom.”
Rosenthal said she is going to pursue her bill to ban flavors when lawmakers return to Albany, and said she will also be introducing another bill modeled after a San Francisco policy that has banned the sale of e-cigarettes altogether until the FDA has declared them a suitable smoking device.
Legislation is being drawn up at the city level as well to ban the sale of e-cigarettes. Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the 7th District of Manhattan and chairs the Council Committee on Health, is introducing a bill to ban the sale of all e-cigarette flavors in the city.
“While our fight to protect kids from the dangers of vaping has gained a lot of momentum at every level of government, New York City needs our own permanent and comprehensive ban on all flavored vaping products that are marketed specifically to hook kids on nicotine,” Levine said in a statement.
Like Rosenthal’s bill, Levine’s proposal is to go further than the governor’s emergency action and include menthol in the ban.
Because of the aggressive marketing and the flavors widely available, teenagers are now addicted to nicotine ... It’s why they spend much of the school day vaping in the bathroom.” State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal