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Menthol-Flavored Vaping Ban Temporarily On Hold In NY

The New York State Health Department has decided to put off a ban on menthol-flavored nicotine vaping products until a court case challenging an earlier ban on other flavored e-cigarettes is resolved.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in late September asked his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, to convene an emergency meeting of the state’s public health council to enact the ban. The request came 10 days after the council voted to ban all other flavored e-cigarettes. Cuomo has said the flavored e-cigarettes are contributing to a steep rise in teen vaping.  

“The flavored products are highly attractive to young people. Names like, 'Bubblegum,' 'Cotton Candy,' 'Captain Crunch,'” Cuomo said on September 15. “These are obviously targeted to young people and highly effective at targeting young people.”

But the ban on flavored e-cigarettes was halted on October 3, when an appeals court issued a temporary restraining order. Now, a spokeswoman for the health department, Jill Montag, confirms that the meeting to ban menthol-flavored vaping products has been put on hold while the court case plays out.

Owners of vape shops around New York had been preparing to stop selling flavored nicotine vaping products as of last Friday. Mike Kruger is the owner of two vaping shops in the Schenectady area. He says he ran out of some of his most popular flavored products in the run up to the ban, and has reordered them while he waits to see what happens in court.

“It put customers in a panic,” Kruger said.

Kruger and other members of the New York State Vapor Association say their products have helped many smokers of tobacco cigarettes to successfully quit their habit. Kruger says members of the association are also concerned about the increase in teen vaping. They back measures that stop short of a ban but include restricting the nicotine levels in flavored e-cigarettes to very low levels. They also support installing digital locks on vaping products that can only be opened with an ID proving that the user is of legal age.

The health department’s bans on the nicotine products come at the same time a mysterious lung ailment related to vaping has sickened over 1,000 people nationwide, and killed 18 people. The ailment has been linked to black market cannabis products that use Vitamin E oil as a filler. So far, nicotine products have not been implicated, though some with the illness have said that they only vaped product’s containing nicotine and never used cannabis. Arguments in the court case challenging the nicotine vaping bans will be heard on October 18.

Kruger says his side has a good chance of winning.

“I think we have a pretty strong case,” Kruger said.

But DOH Commissioner Zucker, in a statement, disagrees. He says health officials won’t be deterred from “using every tool at our disposal” to reduce the rate of teen vaping and fight what he says is a “public health emergency."

It seems the public is on the side of the health department. A poll conducted by Siena College finds 61 percent of New Yorkers support the ban, and 78 percent believe that vaping is a serious public health problem.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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