New York became the first state to ban flavored electronic cigarettes Tuesday, a move health officials said was aimed at curbing youth smoking.
Proponents of vaping who had testified against the proposal in lower Manhattan and three upstate cities angrily shouted at members of a state health panel after the vote, accusing them of rushing to judgment and predicting that many people who quit traditional cigarettes will now return to smoking.
“Congratulations, you just killed millions of people,” yelled Matthew Elliott, 28, of Ronkonkoma, who said fruit-flavored vape products led to him quitting a 15-year cigarette habit.
The emergency measure, pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, goes into effect immediately but will not be enforced until Oct. 4. Retailers and distributors will face fines of up to $2,000 for each unit of flavored e-liquid sold.
It appeared that only two of about 19 members of the Public Health and Health Planning Council taking the voice vote Tuesday opposed the measure. Cuomo on Sunday had requested that the council pass the emergency resolution, after initially saying he would ask the State Legislature to enact a ban.
But state health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said that with vaping up sharply among New York youth and hundreds of people nationally with lung problems linked to vaping, the state couldn’t wait until the legislature goes back into session in January. Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors now vape, most with flavored e-liquids, he said.
“The flavoring is a key youth marketing strategy of the vaping, aerosol industry,” he said.
Yet in a protest outside the Manhattan building where the meeting took place, Elliott and others held signs like “Flavors Save Lives!!!”.
Council member Dr. Glenn Martin, a senior associate dean at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan, said concern about “unintended consequences,” such as causing ex-smokers to return to smoking, is why he voted no.
He called for more study on the issue rather than pushing through an emergency measure when “I’m just not convinced this is an emergency.” The emergency measure must be renewed in 90 days to stay in effect.
“This is basically going to be a big public health experiment,” Martin said.
The ban does not include menthol, an omission that representatives from the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association assailed.
Nearly two out of three high school students who vape use menthol and mint vape products, said Michael Seilback, national assistant vice president of state public policy for the lung association.
“These menthol products are as likely to hook another generation of kids [on nicotine], and we have the opportunity to act,” he said.
Zucker said officials are still discussing whether to ban menthol e-cigarettes but first want to study whether banning them would lead to an increase in cigarette smoking among ex-smokers, especially among African Americans, who he said overwhelmingly prefer menthol to non-menthol combustible cigarettes.
Michigan approved a ban that includes menthol, but not tobacco flavor. Rules for enactment in that state have not yet been put into place.
Vapers like Dennis Mink, 61, of Floral Park, said e-cigarettes allowed them to quit tobacco after other methods failed.
Mink said he smoked for 48 years and tried nicotine gum, nicotine patches, acupuncture and behavioral therapy to quit. Only vaping worked, he said.
James Viola, 61, who owns a vape shop in Medford, said he and other store owners support more regulations, such as restrictions on vape-product advertising, increased penalties for selling to minors and stepped-up enforcement of age restrictions.
Viola said more than 90 percent of his sales are of flavored vape liquids. With the ban, he said, “I stand to lose everything.”
Nationwide, health officials are investigating hundreds of cases of serious breathing illnesses in people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. They have identified 380 confirmed and probable cases in 36 states and one territory, including six deaths. President Donald Trump has proposed a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products. And other states are considering bans.
With The Associated Press