Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes amid a spate of illnesses and several deaths that have been linked to using vaping devices.
More than 450 cases of possible e-cigarette-related lung illnesses have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control as of Sept. 6, including five confirmed deaths, the agency said on its website.
At a press conference on Monday, Cuomo and New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urged people to curtail the habit until health officials know more about it.
“Common sense says that if you don’t know what you are smoking, don’t smoke it,” Cuomo said. “And right now, we don’t know what you’re smoking.”
He also said he will propose legislation that will make flavored e-cigarettes illegal.
“[They’re] attracting thousands of young people to an activity,” he said. “And again, we don’t know exactly what they are smoking or what the consequences are.”
The Department of Health has launched an investigation that will involve sending out subpoenas to some of the companies that manufacture vaping products, the governor said.
New York State alone has seen 41 patients with possible vaping-related illnesses, Zucker noted. Wadsworth Center, a public health laboratory in Albany, analyzed samples from some of those patients and found “high levels” of vitamin E acetate — a chemical used as a filler in some vaping products, he said.
When high levels of the chemical are inhaled into the lungs, it can damage the air sacs, he explained.
While all of the samples the lab has tested came from “black market products,” Zucker said it was safer to avoid both legal and illegal vaping products until more testing is done.
“Obviously you can get quite ill,” he said. “I think it’s important … at this point in time, to err on the side of caution … and to not use any of the products.”
In addition to launching the investigation and moving to ban flavored e-cigarettes, shops in New York State that sell e-cigarettes or other vaping products will have to post signs warning customers it is a “risky activity,” Cuomo said.
Officials in the e-cigarette industry say their mission is to provide adults with an alternative to traditional cigarettes and that they are committed to keeping the products out of the hands of teenagers.
The CDC hasn’t officially identified a cause of the more than 450 reported lung illnesses, but “all reported cases have a history of using e-cigarette products,” it said.
It isn’t clear yet whether the cases are linked to “any specific substance or e-cigarette product,” the agency noted, adding that many patients reported “using e-cigarette products with liquids that contain cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).”
Cuomo on Monday said the state’s guideline is “quite simple.”
“Don’t do it. Don’t do it because we don’t know that it is safe,” he said. “Until we have the information, why would you take the risk?”