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New York’s E-Cigarette Ban Throws Scientific Research Into Question

Rich Pedroncelli

The number of deaths and injuries attributed to e-cigarettes continues to rise, but the ability for researchers to study the health effects of vape products in New York is in question.

Irfan Rahman runs the lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center, but his work actually starts outside of it.

Rahman says despite all the recent concerns about vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, scientists still know very little about what’s actually in e-cigarette flavors. So he visits smoke shops in and around Rochester, buys their products, and takes them back to the lab.

“I would like to get this fire, fire and ice. I got mango the other day. What is this, strawberry?”

Funded by a federal grant split between URMC and the Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, Rahman runs the e-cigarette liquids through a series of tests.

There’s no complete listing of ingredients in these products, so Rahman has to build it in the lab.

“For example, fruit medley has butane, used in a gas lighter. Sulfate, is a pesticide here.”

Rahman says these products don’t have the same toxicity as conventional cigarettes, but they’re still not safe. But just as e-cigarettes have been thrown into the national spotlight, his lab’s ability to research what’s in them has been thrown into question.

The text of New York’s emergency regulations on flavored e-cigarettes bans any possession of the products. Each violation carries a $2,000 penalty. There’s no exemption for research written into the rules.

The state health department, which is charged with enforcing the regulations, says they’re not planning to come after researchers.

But Rahman says he hasn’t gotten any official guidance, and that has him worried about his lab’s ability to find out exactly what’s been making people sick.

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