The danger vaping poses is growing more apparent by the day. Teenagers are showing up in emergency rooms with lungs “like a 70-year-old’s.” There are now 530 reported cases of vaping-related lung diseases across the country, and at least eight people have died.
The science on cigarettes has been settled ever since the U.S. surgeon general issued a landmark report warning that smoking was hazardous to the public’s health. And as part of the Family Smoking and Tobacco Prevention Act of 2009, Congress banned the sale of cigarettes with flavors, except menthol and tobacco, because they knew flavors were being used to hook children. Since then, Americans — especially children — have made remarkable strides in shedding this lethal habit.
It would be a tragedy if we defeated one menace only to allow another to take its place. But that’s exactly what we’re letting the e-cigarette and vaping industry do.
New York is leading the country in confronting this crisis, taking a multi-pronged approach to fully eradicating this scourge by targeting both underage vaping and the black-market products we believe are driving these recent hospitalizations.
That starts with protecting the most vulnerable and impressionable members of society, our kids. After decades of declining tobacco use, e-cigarette use by New York’s high schoolers increased 160% over the last four years. E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among children, with 40% of high school seniors and 27% of all high schoolers now vaping.
There are two driving forces behind this spike: predatory advertising, and widespread availability of flavors like “bubblegum,” “cotton candy” and “Captain Crunch,” marketed explicitly towards kids. One in five New York teenagers report that flavors were the reason they first tried an e-cigarette.
We have an obligation to help our kids grow up healthy. That’s why I took emergency executive action, and, as of last week, New York is the first state in the nation to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. While we exempted tobacco and menthol flavors, the state health commissioner is evaluating a menthol ban, and will offer a recommendation soon.
I also announced legislation that will outlaw deceptive advertising that markets e-cigarettes to children and teens. This would ensure e-cigarettes are treated the same way as other tobacco products. In 1998, we banned cigarette companies from explicitly targeting kids; vaping companies have replaced Joe Camel cartoons and Marlboro Man TV ads with savvy social media campaigns.
I also enacted emergency regulations requiring shops that sell e-cigarettes to post a warning that lets people know that they pose a significant health risk, and added vaping to the existing education and awareness program in schools.
And because e-cigarettes often end up in the hands of kids because unscrupulous stores sell to them, we will also be launching a major enforcement crackdown, to identify and charge shops that are selling vapes to underage buyers.
But we can’t truly end this epidemic without attacking its root cause. So last Monday, New York launched an investigation into the companies that produce vaping substances, serving subpoenas so that we can determine the ingredient mix in their diluent thickeners and ban dangerous products from the market for good.
This is all in addition to actions we have already taken to curb youth e-cigarette use. In November, a bill I signed into law will go into effect raising the age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21. We also banned the use of electronic cigarettes on all school grounds and imposed a 20% sales tax on e-liquids.
It took our country more than 30 years after we first reckoned with the dangers cigarettes pose to comprehensively hold the tobacco industry accountable and break the cycle of devastation cigarette companies wrought on each new generation. In the interim, millions of Americans — myself included — got hooked on nicotine, and smoking became the leading cause of preventable death worldwide.
We can’t let that happen again. Congress and President Trump must join New York in heeding the lessons of the cigarette wars, and help curb this crisis while we still can.
Cuomo is governor of New York.