The sale of flavored e-cigarettes, linked to at least 22 deaths and more than 1,000 cases of breathing ailments and lung illnesses across the country, would be banned nationwide under a new plan rolled out Tuesday by Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The two-pronged approach unveiled by Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a news conference at Great Neck South High School calls for passage of the Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids Act, which would prohibit the sale of "kid friendly" flavored vaping products with the exception of menthol, along with a new public awareness campaign.
Schumer also called on the Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of the Surgeon General to launch a coordinated national education campaign focused on alerting young people to the dangers of vaping. Similar campaigns have targeted traditional cigarette companies.
"We are here to curb a health crisis that has become an epidemic in New York, on Long Island and throughout the country," Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, said as he was surrounded by high school students, teachers and administrators. "This is all about vaping. And vaping has become a real crisis."
President Donald Trump has expressed support for federal legislation to prevent the sale of flavored vaping liquids.
The bipartisan SAFE Kids Act, co-sponsored by Schumer and introduced in March by Sens. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, would target flavored vaping pods that lawmakers contend target children. Schumer held up images of three e-cigarette flavors including candy cane, vanilla milk and cookies, and drip and whip.
The legislation contains a provision that would allow for the reintroduction of certain flavors into the marketplace if companies can prove their products do not increase the rates of youth tobacco and nicotine use; help adults stop smoking traditional cigarettes; and are not dangerous to users.
Juul, the nation's largest vaping company, did not respond to requests for comment.
At Great Neck South High School, the dangers associated with vaping are personal for Principal Christopher Gitz, who has a family friend suffering from an illness related to her use of e-cigarettes. Gitz shared her story with his students, who launched a schoolwide campaign to combat vaping.
Student body president Aryaman Bahri said he and his classmates began distributing flyers to classmates describing the dangers of vaping. Members of the student government are also planning to hold public and private discussions with students to further their message.
"There are no scare tactics," Bahri said. "There's just the facts. Vaping kills and it's time for students to start becoming proactive."
Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors and 27 percent of high school students overall in New York vape, according to the state Health Department.
The bill comes as a New York Appellate Court last week granted a request by the e-cigarette industry to put a hold on the state's ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids. The court's order prevents the statewide ban from taking effect until a lower court reviews the request for a temporary injunction. The parties are back in court Oct. 18.
As of Oct. 1, public health officials are investigating 1,080 cases of breathing ailments and lung illnesses that are believed to be related to e-cigarettes, including more than 100 in New York State and nearly two dozen on Long Island, according to the CDC. More than 40 percent of the victims nationwide are under the age of 21, the figures show.
On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that a 17-year-old male from the Bronx, who was hospitalized in early September with a vaping-related respiratory illness, had died, becoming on the first New York to pass away from the use of e-cigarettes.
Northwell Health, the region's largest health care provider, has treated 30 patients in the last two months alone with vaping-related illnesses, according to Sameer Khanijo, a pulmonary disease specialist with Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
"All these patients have a shared history of vaping or e-cigarette use," Khanijo said. "All people are encouraged to abstain from vaping products at this time until we know more about what their long and short term effects are."
The movement to ban flavored e-cigarettes has gained momentum on Long Island in recent months. Nassau and Suffolk County, along with the Town of Hempstead, have proposed legislation to prohibit the sale of the liquids, while other municipalities are considering similar bans, officials said.