Following New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency executive move Sunday to direct the state health department to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, health advocates say the move doesn’t go far enough, while the industry says the governor is overreaching.
Part of Cuomo’s emergency action directs state police and the state Department of Health to immediately partner to ramp up enforcement efforts against retailers that sell to underage customers, with the possibility of criminal penalties. And he announced he will advance legislation to ban deceptive marketing of e-cigarettes to teens and children.
“We would ban all flavors besides tobacco and menthol,” Cuomo says. “There is a debate about whether or not menthol should be banned.”
Cuomo says state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is not yet ready to ban menthol given that some data suggests that, for a number of menthol cigarette smokers, menthol e-cigarettes help in quitting smoking.
“So at this point, Dr. Zucker’s recommendation is he is not prepared to recommend banning menthol,” says Cuomo.
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Managing Director of Government Relations Bill Sherman wants to see a stronger ban.
“The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network feels that all flavored e-cigarettes need to be included in any ban,” Sherman says. “We know that 27 percent of teens use e-cigarettes and, out of that number, 64 percent use menthol. And to exclude menthol really misses the mark.”
The percentage he mentions is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Heart Association issued a similar statement, with its government relations director saying that mint and menthol flavoring in all tobacco products makes it easier to start using and harder to quit. Meantime, the Food and Drug Administration intends to finalize a compliance policy in the coming weeks surrounding a federal ban of flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, as President Trump signaled last week. Again, Sherman.
“We think it’s dangerous because it sends a possible message to parents and their kids that if menthol has been exempted maybe somehow that’s safer,” says Sherman. “And the fact is no use of e-cigarettes by teenagers is safe.”
Jim Calvin is president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.
“Well, we’re struggling to see the direct correlation between people getting sick from vaping illegal marijuana that our licensed stores do not sell and the decision to outlaw many of the brand-name e-cigarettes that we do sell,” Calvin says. “But this is the policy that the governor is imposing and we’re obligated to follow.”
Cuomo says retailers found selling tobacco and vaping products to underage individuals will now face criminal penalties in addition to civil penalties. When the legislation signed in July is effective on November 13, sweeps and compliance efforts will continue with a renewed focus on sales to those under age 21. Sherman says the American Cancer Society Action Network was involved in moving to raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
“What’s really important is that we take flavors off the table so they do not attract new tobacco and nicotine flavors, and that’s what the flavors are doing,” says Sherman.
The New York Association of Convenience Stores’ Calvin says raising the purchase age for tobacco and vaping products is one of a few other reasons that some convenience stores may decide to stop selling e-cigarettes.
“The biggest concern, I think, is that the banned e-cigarette flavors are still going to be manufactured and the demand for them is still going to exist. And New York’s vaping population is not a captive audience, and that means that they’re going to find the flavored product they want, whether in a bordering state or a tribal smoke shop or online or in the black market that’s certain to emerge,” says Sherman. “So this policy may well backfire by driving a lot of e-cigarette users to unlicensed and unregulated and untaxed sources of the product.”
A number of state lawmakers have signed onto bills banning flavored e-cigarettes and cracking down on the marketing of these products. Lower Hudson Valley state Senator David Carlucci sponsors a bill banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products, excluding tobacco and menthol. He says the governor’s executive order will save lives and hold vaping manufacturers accountable.