Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced an emergency executive action to ban the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes in New York State – the latest in a series of actions to combat the increasing number of youth using vape products, largely driven by e-cigarette companies marketing flavors that are intended to get children addicted to nicotine.
DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker will hold an emergency meeting with the Public Health and Health Planning Council, or PHHPC, this week to ban flavored e-cigarettes. The Governor directed State Police and DOH to immediately partner to ramp up enforcement efforts against retailers who sell to underage youth, with the possibility of criminal penalties. Finally, the Governor announced he will advance legislation to ban deceptive marketing of e-cigarettes to teens and children.
“New York is confronting this crisis head-on and today we are taking another nation-leading step to combat a public health emergency,” Governor Cuomo said. “Manufacturers of fruit and candy-flavored e-cigarettes are intentionally and recklessly targeting young people, and today we’re taking action to put an end to it. At the same time, unscrupulous stores are knowingly selling vaping products to underage youth – those retailers are now on notice that we are ramping up enforcement and they will be caught and prosecuted.”
To further crack down on retailers selling tobacco and vaping products to underage youth, State Police is partnering with DOH to conduct undercover investigations across the state under The Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act, which enlists underage youth to attempt to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products. Retailers found selling tobacco and vaping products to underage individuals will now face criminal penalties in addition to civil penalties. When the legislation signed in July is effective on November 13, these sweeps and compliance efforts will continue with a renewed focus on sales to those under age 21.
Every licensed tobacco retailer is assessed annually for compliance with the law:
- State and local enforcement officers conducted 29,552 compliance inspections during the program year April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. Of these, 22,395 were compliance checks where underage youth attempted to purchase tobacco and other restricted products.
- During the time period April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, a total of 386 inspections were conducted in response to 250 complaints received concerning ATUPA violations.
- During the time period April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, youth purchased tobacco and other restricted products 1,296 times. A total of 985 enforcement actions were taken for ATUPA violations and more than $922,000 in fines were assessed.
These efforts follow a series of actions taken by the Governor aimed at addressing the growing use of vaping products, which have come under national scrutiny following a rising number of cases of vaping-associated respiratory illnesses.
On September 12, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order that directs state agencies to deploy education awareness programs on vaping and include vaping and e-cigarette prevention and cessation measures in their educational programs and employee trainings. The order also directs DOH to work with the State Education Department to immediately develop and deploy these measures for school districts to incorporate into their curriculums. The Governor also signed legislation to expand current school-based programs and marketing campaigns aimed at reducing tobacco use to include e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine.
On September 9, the Governor directed DOH to launch an investigation into companies that produce vaping substances. DOH served three subpoenas so that DOH can determine the ingredient mix in their diluent-thickeners. DOH also passed emergency regulations to require shops that sell e-cigarettes to post a warning that lets people know that it poses a significant health risk. Regulations are now in place to do this.
On July 16, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to raise the age to purchase tobacco and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21, effective November 13, 2019. The Governor also signed legislation in October 2017 to ban the use of electronic cigarettes on all school grounds and everywhere that smoking products are prohibited.
The dramatic increase in use of e-cigarettes by youth is driven in large part by flavored e-liquids, and flavors are a principal reason that youth initiate and maintain e-cigarette use. According to Department of Health data, nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students in New York State are now using e-cigarettes, and this increase is largely driven by flavored e-liquids. High school use in 2018 (27.4%) is 160 percent higher than it was in 2014 (10.5%). While New York’s high school student smoking rate dropped from 27.1% in 2000 to a record low of 4.3% in 2016, aggressive marketing promoting flavored e-cigarettes stands to turn that trend. Flavoring is a key youth marketing strategy of the vaping/aerosol industry just as it is in the cigarette, cigar and smokeless tobacco markets. E-cigarette marketing highlights flavors such as mint chocolate, bubblegum and cherry cola, and creates a deceptive belief that they are not harmful to users. In a 2017 survey of 15 to 17 year old adolescents in New York State currently using electronic vapor products, 19% of the adolescents said that flavors were the reason that they first tried an e-cigarette and 27% said flavors were the reason for maintaining use. Studies also show nearly 78% of high school students and 75% of middle school students report being exposed to pro-tobacco marketing in 2016. Legislation to be advanced next session will prevent these deceptive and misleading advertisements to target our youth.
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “E-cigarettes have been implicated as a key indicator in the upward trend of the use of tobacco products among youths in recent years. These regulations will help curb this dangerous trend and will further safeguard the health of all New Yorkers, especially among underage youths.”
State Police Superintendent Keith M. Corlett said, “Retailers who sell E-cigarettes and vaping products must ensure they are checking IDs and only selling to those who are old enough to purchase. State Troopers will partner with the Department of Health to crack down on those who sell to minors and will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
With respect to the recent illnesses reported as a result of vaping, patients using vape products reported a variety of symptoms, developing over a period of days to weeks, including: pulmonary symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chest pain), gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), fatigue, fever, headache, and weight loss.
There is concern regarding human exposure to nicotine, as users are often unaware of how much nicotine they are consuming from these liquids. The newest and most popular e-cigarettes deliver high levels of nicotine, the addictive component in all tobacco products. While it is too soon to understand the long-term health effects of a lifetime of e-cigarette use, research is beginning to accumulate about certain health effects related to cardiovascular conditions and respiratory conditions. The Department of Health will continue to closely monitor the research literature for health impact related to e-cigarettes.
Anyone experiencing symptoms who uses vape products should contact their healthcare provider immediately. Healthcare providers should report possible cases to the local poison control center (1-800-222-1222). If you are concerned at all with your vaping device or products or just want more information, call the NYSDOH’s Vaping Hotline at 1-888-364-3046.