Some New York state lawmakers hope to work on measures to ban flavored e-cigarettes and other related legislation when the next session begins in January. This comes amid concern over the recent rise in lung-related illnesses and, in some states, deaths related to vaping. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports the governor is also getting involved.
On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order directing state agencies to deploy an education awareness program on vaping. He also signed legislation to expand current school-based programs and marketing campaigns aimed at reducing tobacco use to include e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine. Democrat Linda Rosenthal sponsored the bill in the Assembly. On Monday, Cuomo announced he will advance new legislation to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Here’s Rosenthal, who represents portions of Manhattan.
“I have had, since 2017, the bill to ban flavored e-cigarettes. The governor announced that he’s introducing a bill but I already have a bill and it’s something that I’ve worked on for years. Last year, last session, it was in the Health Committee, it got voted out of the Health Committee and then moved to the Codes Committee,” Rosenthal says. “We ran out of time at the end of the year and, frankly, the lobbyists were very active in opposing the ban on flavors. It didn’t proceed but, come January, I’m sure one of the first things we’ll take up.”
Democrat David Carlucci is a Senate co-sponsor. And he is a co-sponsor of the bill Cuomo just signed. Carlucci also sponsors a bill banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products, which fellow Hudson Valley Democrat Sandy Galef sponsors in the Assembly.
“I don’t care whose bill, whose name’s on the bill, we have to get it done,” says Carlucci.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 380 cases of lung illness across 36 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Six deaths have been reported from six states, but none on the East Coast. All reported cases have a history of e-cigarette use or vaping. Again, Carlucci:
“Banning flavored e-cigarettes is the first thing we should do of many precautions we should take,” Carlucci says. “We should ban e-cigarettes from being able to advertise to youth, to be able to advertise on TV, just like we do with cigarettes.”
Rosenthal wants to stop the marketing of flavored e-cigarettes to kids, who get hooked on the products’ nicotine. Carlucci agrees.
“We banned the sale of flavored cigarettes a while ago but yet we’ve done nothing on e-cigarettes. There’s over 7,000 flavors,” Carlucci says. “A report put by Health and Human Services says that a quarter of all high-school students has vaped within the past 30 days.
Rosenthal is coming at the issue from another angle as well.
“I’m introducing another bill that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes until the FDA clears them as a smoking cessation device,” Rosenthal says.
The state Department of Health launched an investigation, and will issue subpoenas to companies marketing and selling "thickening agents" used in black market vaping products, such as Vitamin E acetate. Cuomo also directed the Health Department to issue emergency regulations mandating that warning signs must be posted in all vape and smoke shops in the state.
“And common sense says, if you don’t know what you are smoking, don’t smoke it,” Cuomo says. “And right now, we don’t know what you’re smoking in a lot of these vaping substances, etcetera.”
State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker:
“We know we have 41 patients in the state of New York. Right now we have 13 samples in eight patients. We are continuing to get more samples. Our Wadsworth lab — our state public health lab— has been analyzing them. We have found, as the governor mentioned, high levels of Vitamin E acetate in the samples,” Zucker says. “Just for education purposes, Vitamin E, when high levels of Vitamin E are inhaled into your lungs all the way down to the small air sacs in your lungs, it can damage those lungs and since those air sacs are where you get oxygen into your body, obviously you can get quite ill.”
According to Department of Health data, nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high-school students in New York are using e-cigarettes, an increase largely driven by flavored e-liquids. Such use in high school in 2018 is 160 percent higher than it was in 2014, around 27 percent versus more than 10 percent. Here’s Carlucci:
“The silver lining here is that a wakeup call has finally happened. The federal government, our state government has moved slower than molasses on the issue of e-cigarettes,” Carlucci says. “This is a serious problem. We have a generation that will be addicted to nicotine because of government’s inaction.”
Meantime, the Trump administration says it is moving toward banning flavored e-cigarettes. President Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would soon be issuing recommendations.