Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Health Department are continuing to urge New Yorkers to refrain from using any vaping products for marijuana or nicotine while an investigation continues into the cause of a mysterious lung ailment related to vaping that has now sickened 41 New Yorkers.
The governor is making the recommendation after reports of around 500 cases of the disease nationwide and five deaths. It appears to be related to vaping black market cannabis products with THC that also contain vitamin E oil, which is harmful when inhaled. But no one knows for sure, and Cuomo, speaking in New York City Monday, is urging caution.
“This is a frightening public health phenomenon,” Cuomo said. “And common sense says if you don’t know don’t what you are smoking, don’t smoke it.”
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is also asking patients in the state’s medical marijuana program to consult with their health care providers on whether they can use alternatives to vaping products while the investigation continues. Dr. Zucker says the department is looking into possible causes of the illness, and is examining 13 samples from New Yorkers who have developed the disease. He says in all of the cases, vitamin E oil was present. The department will issue subpoenas to three companies who manufacture the filler substances used in THC vaping products.
The companies are Honey Cut Diluting Agent by Honey Cut Labs LLC in Santa Monica, California; Uber Thick by Floraplex Terpenes in Ypsilanti, Michigan; and Pure Diluent by Mass Terpenes in Amherst, Massachusetts. Cuomo says more companies could also face subpoenas as the probe continues.
All of the state’s vaping retail stores will be required to post a warning signs on shop windows, saying vaping can cause death.
And Zucker says if you have vaped recently and have symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pains, cough, headache, nausea and vomiting, you should seek medical attention.
“You really should see your doctor if you are using a vaping product,” said Zucker.
But representatives of the vaping industry in New York say the state’s warning is going too far. Spike Babaian is on the Board of the New York State Vapor Association, and is an owner of four electronic cigarette stores in New York City. She says the majority of people who vape nicotine products are trying to avoid combustible cigarettes, which they believe are more harmful to their health. She says telling them to stop vaping is “irresponsible.”
“They are not using them as a fun device. They are using them as an option instead of smoking cigarettes,” said Babaian. “And most of them, if not using an e-cigarette, will return to smoking. And we know what that leads to.”
She says many who vape have tried nicotine patches or gum to wean themselves from smoking, but have found those products don’t work for them.
The e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, but they do contain some of the same chemicals in regular cigarettes that have been found to be harmful, including formaldehyde.
A National Institutes of Health study found that e-cigarette vapor could cause DNA mutations in mice.
E-cigarettes are relatively new, so there are no long-term studies showing whether vaping is less harmful than smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control is also recommending that people avoid all vaping products for now. But the federal Food and Drug Administration says that people should only avoid vaping the cannabis/THC products.
Babaian, with the vaping industry group, says the state’s warning should be more like the FDA’s.
“Don’t use street-bought marijuana THC cartridges, because they are not tested,” said Babaian, who said that in New York, the only legitimate way to obtain the THC vaping projects is by getting a medical marijuana card and going to a licensed dispensary. “If you don’t have a condition that requires it, why are you using an illegal product that puts your life at risk?”
Later in the day, Babaian responded to the warning sign requirement, saying she is not speaking for the vaping industry organization, but in regard to her own vaping shops.
“I will never post that sign in any of my shops. Unless the sign clarifies vaping ‘what’ substance can cause illness and death, it will never go in my shops,” she said in a statement. “I do not lie to my customers.”
Health Commissioner Zucker says for now, he’s urging the broader ban and wants to “err on the side of caution” until more is known.
Governor Cuomo says he’s not ruling out a temporary ban of all e-cigarettes, but admits it would be difficult to enforce because the products are legal under federal law.
Cuomo also says that in the 2020 legislative session, he’ll introduce a bill to ban flavored e-cigarettes.