Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to direct his health department to ban all flavored electronic cigarettes, in response to a vaping heath emergency that has sickened hundreds and killed six people.
The lung ailment, which has been contacted by 64 New Yorkers, has so far been linked to black market marijuana vaping products that also contain liquid vitamin E oil. But the governor says vaping of any substance is not a healthy practice and is addicting an alarming number of young people. Cuomo says vaping is better than smoking combustible cigarettes, but not by much.
“Vaping is better than smoking. Technically yes, but so what? Smoking is terrible,” said Cuomo. “It is virtually a high risk, potential death situation. Well, vaping is better than that. Yes, but again that is not saying much.”
Cuomo said vaping should only be used by adults who have tried other methods to quit, including nicotine patches, nicotine laced gum and therapy, have been unsuccessful.
Cuomo said his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, will direct the Public Health and Health Planning Council to take steps to impose a ban on flavored e-cigarettes that are attractive to children.
“The flavored products are highly attractive to young people. Names like "Bubblegum," "Cotton Candy," "Captain Crunch," which was my favorite. These are obviously targeted to young people and highly effective at targeting young people,” Cuomo said.
Menthol flavored e-cigarettes will still be allowed to be sold.
The American Cancer Society and the American Hearth Association both issued statements Sunday afternoon, saying the ban does not go far enough and that menthol and mint-flavored e-cigarettes should also be included, because they are also attractive to children.
"We think the governor still has the opportunity to get all of these flavored products off of our shelves," said Michael Seilback, national associate vice president for state public policy for the American Lung Association. "He's going to be working with a public health committee later this week on the emergency regs and we want them to pass regs that include all flavored e-cigarettes and do that immediately."
There has long been concern about marketing menthol tobacco products in communities of color. The claim is that the cool of the menthol cigarette smoke makes people smoke more often and inhale more deeply.
“We cannot leave menthol cigarettes on the table once again,” said Caitlin O’Brien, the American Heart Association’s government relations director for New York State. “We know that menthol cigarettes have been successfully promoted and marketed disproportionately to youth and African American communities for decades. Restricting the sale of all flavors in all tobacco products is a must if we want to eliminate tobacco use and keep future generations from ever picking up this dangerous addiction."
Zucker said there is some evidence that menthol flavors help people who are trying to quit regular cigarettes and have been unsuccessful with other methods, so he is not ready to ban those flavors .
The ban could take effect in as soon as two weeks. President Donald Trump has also said he wants to direct the federal Food and Drug Administration to ban flavored e-cigarettes nationwide, but Cuomo said he does not know for certain whether that will indeed happen. The governor said vaping has become a burgeoning health crisis. He compares it to the tobacco epidemic of earlier decades and the current opioid problem.
The largest player in the e-cigarette market said it is reviewing the governor's announcement and agrees there is a need for "aggressive category-wide action."
Juul Labs Inc. spokesman Austin Finan said in a statement Sunday the company would "fully comply" with local laws and any federal policy when they are effective. Juul said it has stopped selling flavored products in traditional retail stores since November of last year.
WBFO's Mike Desmond and the Associated Press contributed to this story.