ALBANY (WCBS 880/AP) – Most flavors of e-cigarettes may soon be off the shelves in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an emergency executive action directing state health officials to ban vaping flavors on the grounds that they pose a "public health emergency."
Cuomo said Health Department Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, will hold an emergency meeting with the Public Health and Health Planning Council this week to suggest banning flavored vaping products and that he's "not waiting for the federal government to come protect the people of the state of New York."
The ban could go into effect in as little as two weeks. It does not effect tobacco or menthol-flavored vaping products.
Cuomo accused manufacturers of flavored e-cigarettes of targeting young people and blamed retailers for selling to underage buyers.
Cuomo says the state police and Health Department will join forces to go after retailers who are selling e-cigarettes and tobacco to underage youth. He said the penalties for doing so will now be criminal as well as civil.
“New York is confronting this crisis head-on and today we are taking another nation-leading step to combat a public health emergency,” Cuomo said.
The governor’s emergency executive action is meant to be a bridge to a long-term legislative solution.
“We do not know the long-term health effects of the use of this product. Why? Because there has been no long-term study,” Cuomo said Sunday.
Leading e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL Labs responded to the action by Cuomo in a statement Sunday, saying it has already taken actions in New York like pulling all flavors except tobacco and menthol from traditional retail stores in November.
"We will review today’s announcement as we strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products," the statement reads. "That is why we already stopped selling our non-tobacco/non-menthol based JUULpods to traditional retail stores, are fighting against counterfeit and compatible products made with unknown ingredients under unknown manufacturing standards, and will fully comply with local laws and the final FDA policy when effective. We will continue to combat youth usage, while supporting reasonable access to vapor products for adults looking to switch from combustible cigarettes."
JUUL also said that it has never marketed to youth and does not sell cotton candy and other flavors seen as especially appealing to young people.
Last week, New York expanded anti-tobacco initiatives to discourage the use of vaping devices and e-cigarettes too.On Thursday, Cuomo signed an executive order directing state agencies overseeing anti-tobacco programs to address the newer methods of tobacco use.Cuomo also signed into law a mandate that state anti-tobacco campaigns include vaping as well as traditional tobacco.Cuomo, a Democrat, signed legislation in July raising the statewide smoking age to 21. Earlier this week he announced plans to require health warning posters in shops selling vaping products.He says the new emphasis on the risks of e-cigarettes reflects the state's efforts to prevent young people from getting addicted.
At a rally of parents and students in front of the Education Department Sunday, seventh grader Yael Mintz told WCBS 880's Mike Smeltz that she sees students ducking into stalls in school bathrooms to vape.
"There have been jokes about the bathroom being called the JUUL room because that’s what people go into the bathroom for just to get rid of their JUUL craving," Mintz said.
The changes come as public health officials around the nation investigate hundreds of lung illnesses believed to be related to vaping. Health officials said Thursday that 380 confirmed cases and probable cases have been reported in 36 states and one U.S. territory.
No single device, liquid or ingredient has been identified as the cause, and health officials are advising people not to vape at all until more is known.
New York officials have been focused on a substance called vitamin E acetate, which recently has been used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges that also contain THC.
On Thursday, the state's Public Health and Health Planning Council passed emergency regulations to require stores that sell vaping products there to post signs on the dangers of using illegal vaping products.
Also this week, the government shared preliminary new data on the growing popularity of vaping in adolescents.
Nearly 28 percent of U.S. adolescents surveyed this year said say they vaped at least once in the last 30 days, the government said. That's up from about 21 percent in 2018, and 12 percent the year before.
E-cigarettes generally have been considered less dangerous than regular cigarettes, but health officials have warned that nicotine is harmful to developing brains.
Cuomo’s announcement came as middle and high school students rallied at the Department of Education building Sunday to demand the government restrict flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.
Health Department data shows 1 in 15 New York City middle school students reported using e-cigarettes.