Following a surge in mysterious vaping-related illnesses associated with at least six deaths and renewed focus on skyrocketing teen use, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that his office is now seeking emergency regulations that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes other than tobacco and menthol throughout the state.
The White House announced last week that it is also considering yanking all e-cigarettes with a flavor other than tobacco from the market, while the Food and Drug Administration separately warned market leader Juul that it could remove its products from the market if it found the company marketed to children or portrayed its products as completely safe. Per the New York Times, Cuomo told reporters at his midtown Manhattan offices that he wants New York to become the second state to ban flavored e-cigarettes (after Michigan), calling the situation a “health crisis.”
“Vaping is dangerous,” Cuomo said. “Period. No one can say long-term use of vaping—where you’re inhaling steam and chemicals deep into your lungs—is healthy.”
Note that by “flavored e-cigarettes,” officials mean a variety of products including disposable devices that come pre-filled, pre-packaged pods like those made for Juul-like products, and vape juice and oils sold to refill reusable devices.
While it was initially unclear how exactly the hundreds of cases of pulmonary distress and six deaths linked to vaping in dozens of states occurred, many of the samples tested by the Centers for Disease Control were marijuana products containing large amounts of vitamin E acetate. When vitamin E acetate, an oil that can be cut with weed oil to increase profits, is not sufficiently heated during aerosolization, it can cause inflammation and lung problems—and as the New York Times separately reported, a recent bust in Wisconsin involving two brothers illustrated how easy it is to mass manufacture counterfeit marijuana oil products that resemble legitimate brands from states where weed has been legalized.
The vaping illnesses and flavored e-cigarettes, which are particularly controversial as they are strongly associated with underage use, are separate issues. Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb initially extended e-cigarette manufacturers a four-year delay before their products needed to be vetted for safety in 2017 but then began advocating much tighter regulation of vaping products. Gottlieb told USA Today last week that the illnesses and the flavored cigarettes have been “conflated” and are “separate actions and separate public health concerns,” but he also told CNBC that it was time for a “federal reckoning.”
“People who are vaping nicotine and having these reactions probably are vaping illegal products that are counterfeit,” Gottlieb told CNBC. “We have to have a federal reckoning here... [Recreational marijuana states] don’t have proper oversight, so these illegal vapes are getting on to the market.”
According to the Times, Cuomo’s plan involves New York’s “little-known regulatory body,” the Public Health and Health Planning Council, which is headed by state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. Cuomo plans to have the board meet and issue emergency rules that ban flavored e-cigarettes effective immediately.
“We need to tackle this as fast as possible,” Zucker told reporters, saying the state had tracked 64 cases of lung disease related to vaping. “We don’t need to repeat history.”
The American Lung Association criticized Cuomo’s decision to exempt menthol-flavored products from the ban, saying that he missed “the opportunity to take decisive action,” according to the Times. Association president Harold Wimmer added that he supported a federal ban on all flavored vaping products, saying “While today’s announcement was well-intentioned, it will drive our youth to use menthol-flavored products in even greater numbers.”
Juul has pulled most of its flavored pods, with the exception of tobacco, mint, and menthol, from sale in stores in November 2018. According to the New York Post, sales of its mint pods subsequently skyrocketed, with Nielsen data showing that Juul raked in stunning annualized sales of $2.36 billion as of August 2019. A source told the Post that was a “200 percent” gain over mint pods’ annualized sales of $791 million in October, before Juul pulled the other flavors.