New York moves to ban sale of flavored e-cigarettes amid health concerns

Victoria Bekiempis in New York
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

New York governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday announced an “emergency executive action” to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette products, amid a surge in both youth vaping and concern over its health effects.

Related: After six deaths in the US and bans around the world – is vaping safe?

“Manufacturers of fruit and candy-flavored e-cigarettes are intentionally and recklessly targeting young people, and today we’re taking action to put an end to it,” said Cuomo.

The governor said New York’s top health official would convene an emergency meeting with the state’s public health council this week, to ban the products.

“Names like, ‘Bubblegum’, ‘Cotton Candy’, ‘Captain Crunch’,” Cuomo said, “these are obviously targeted to young people and highly effective at targeting young people.”

Tobacco and menthol-flavored e-cigarette products would not be banned, Cuomo said.

The governor also said authorities would target stores selling such products to underage persons, warning: “Those retailers are now on notice that we are ramping up enforcement and they will be caught and prosecuted.”

In Washington, Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that his administration will propose a federal ban on thousands of e-cigarette flavors.

“People are going to watch what we’re saying and parents are going to be a lot tougher with respect to their children,” Trump said.

In December last year, the National Institutes of Health said more than 37% of high school seniors reported “any vaping” over the past 12 months, a number that was just under 28% in 2017.

“More than one in 10 eighth graders (10.9%) say they vaped nicotine in the past year and use is up significantly in virtually all vaping measures among eighth, 10th and 12th graders,” NIH said.

At least six confirmed deaths have been connected to vaping across the US – in addition to more than 450 cases of reported lung issues.

Repeatedly calling vaping “dangerous”, Cuomo said: “It is addicting young people to nicotine at a very early age and nicotine is highly addictive. It doesn’t even matter what product you are using. It is getting young people addicted to nicotine.”

He said that while vaping was “technically” better than smoking, “the only situation, in my mind, factually, that justifies vaping is if you had a person that said, ‘I currently smoke, and I have tried every other device to stop smoking. I’ve tried everything. Nothing has worked, except vaping.’”

Cuomo said that there had been a debate about whether menthol-flavored e-cigarettes should be banned, and that he and state health commissioner Dr Howard Zucker had discussed the issue.

“Dr Zucker feels at this point he is not yet ready to ban menthol,” he said. “Why? There is some data that suggests for menthol cigarette smokers, again who have tried every other device to stop smoking … the menthol flavor for the vaping helps menthol cigarette smokers.”

In order for the ban to be implemented, Zucker would make a recommendation to the public health council. If it agrees, there would be a two-week grace period before authorities began stepped up enforcement of retailers.

Juul, the largest company in the e-cigarette market, said it was reviewing Cuomo's announcement – and agreed there was a need for “aggressive category-wide action”.

In a statement, a spokesman said the company would “fully comply” with local laws and federal policy.

Juul says it stopped selling flavored products in traditional retail stores in November 2018.