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Vaping could evaporate in New York as Gov. Cuomo ramps up health investigation into e-cigarette additives

2019-09-10

New York health officials ramped up their campaign against e-cigarettes Monday amid a federal probe into mysterious illnesses and deaths across the U.S. tied to vaping.

The state Health Department has identified 41 vape-related illnesses across New York. All those sickened people used vape canisters containing THC, the narcotic ingredient in marijuana.

“This is a frightening public health phenomenon that young people engage in,” Gov. Cuomo said at a press conference announcing the state’s investigation. “Common sense says if you do not know what you are smoking, don’t smoke it.”

Vaping fluid containing THC is sometimes sold with “thickening agents” that can be used in black market vaping devices to cut or dilute its potency.

Officials have also identified vitamin E acetate — an oil derived from vitamin E — as another possible culprit in the mysterious illnesses and deaths. Vitamin E acetate is a common ingredient in vaping products with THC.

Honey Cut Labs of California, Floraplex of Michigan and Mass Terpenes, a Massachusetts company were all targeted for subpoenas.

None of the companies could be reached for comment, but Mass Terpenes issued a disclaimer at the top of its website.

“Please refrain from the use of any THICKENER products. We will not be offering any diluents until more information is available,” the warning said.

Juul, the best-known e-cigarette maker, said it does not include THC or vitamin E acetate in its products.

“JUUL Labs, which exists to help adult smokers switch off of combustible cigarettes, has been monitoring the situation closely. To be clear, the ingredients of our products do not include THC, any compound derived from cannabis, or vitamin E compounds like those found in THC products,” spokesman Austin Finan said.

In addition to the investigation, Cuomo also issued an emergency order to ensure the warning on this potential health hazard goes out far and wide.

Signs must be posted in places that sell vaping products informing users of the dangers and the state will soon launch a public service announcement on e-cigarette risks.

Vaping has caught fire with young people in New York. Health officials found in 2018 that 27% of all high school students in the state now vape, nearly triple what the usage four years before.

“E-cigarette marketing highlights flavors such as mint chocolate, bubblegum and cherry cola, and creates a mistaken belief that they are not harmful to users,” according to the governor’s office.

To stem the growing teen e-smoking craze, Cuomo, taking a page from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s legislative book, called for a bill outlawing the flavored canisters in New York.

“The current outbreak of vaping-associated illnesses and the increasing number of young people using vape products and developing lifelong addictions are two serious public health crises,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner.

Juul denied targeting kids and said it stopped selling flavored e-cigs in retail stores. It only sells those products only online.

“We have never marketed to youth, do not sell flavors like cotton candy or bubble gum, and strongly advocated for Tobacco 21 legislation here in New York,” Finan said.