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Cuomo Issues Executive Order To Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes In New York

Office of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, with the state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, and Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior advisor to the governor, at a press conference last week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to direct his health department to ban all flavored electronic cigarettes, in response to a vaping heath emergency that has sickened hundreds and killed six people.

The lung ailment, which has been contracted by 64 New Yorkers, has so far been linked to black market marijuana vaping products that also contain liquid vitamin E oil. But the governor says vaping of any substance is not a healthy practice and is addicting an alarming number of young people. Cuomo says vaping is better than smoking combustible cigarettes, but not by much.

“Vaping is better than smoking. Technically yes, but so what? Smoking is terrible,” said Cuomo. “It is virtually a high risk, potential death situation. Well, vaping is better than that. Yes, but again that is not saying much.”

Cuomo says vaping should only be used by adults who have tried other methods to quit including nicotine patches, nicotine-laced gum, and therapy, to quit and have been unsuccessful.

Cuomo says his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, will direct the Public Health and Health Planning Council to take steps to impose a ban on flavored e-cigarettes that are attractive to children.

“The flavored products are highly attractive to young people. Names like, "Bubblegum," "Cotton Candy," "Captain Crunch," which was my favorite. These are obviously targeted to young people and highly effective at targeting young people,” Cuomo said. 

Menthol flavored e-cigarettes will still be allowed to be sold.

The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association both issued statements Sunday afternoon saying the ban does not go far enough, and that menthol and mint flavored e-cigarettes should also be included, because they are also attractive to children.

Health Commissioner Zucker says there is some evidence that menthol flavors help people who are trying to quit regular cigarettes and have been unsuccessful with other methods, so he is not ready to ban those flavors.

President Donald Trump has also said he wants to direct the federal Food and Drug Administration to ban flavored e-cigarettes nationwide, but Cuomo says he does not know for certain whether that will indeed happen. The governor says vaping has become a burgeoning health crisis, and he compares it to the tobacco epidemic of earlier decades and the current opioid problem.

The state’s vaping industry, however, says their nicotine products are safe and should not face stricter regulations.

Spike Babaian is on the Board of the New York State Vapor Association, and an owner of four electronic cigarette stores. She says ending the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and allowing only non-flavored ones, would also be a mistake.

“Less than 5% of people use tobacco flavors,” said Babaian. “So 95% would not have access to the products they depend on to keep from smoking.”

Babaian says customers don’t want products that taste like cigarettes, because they are trying to keep away from smoking.

“Most people don’t want to be reminded of what a cigarette tastes like,” she said. “A lot of us haven’t smoked in five to ten years.”

The American Vaping Association says in the history of the U.S., prohibition has never worked and would only strengthen black market sales.

The governor's ban could take effect in as soon as two weeks. 



Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.