ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, citing an outbreak of serious illnesses linked to vaping, said Monday he is preparing legislation that would ban flavored e-cigarettes.
Cuomo also directed the state Health Department to come up with regulations that would require smoke shops to post warning signs about the hazards of vaping.
"Vaping can expose you to toxic chemicals and kill you," the freshly-designed warning reads.
Addressing reporters in New York City, Cuomo also ordered the Health Department to use subpoenas in investigating "black market" companies that produce flavored vaping products. He revealed ongoing laboratory testing has provided clues that ingredients in those products may be responsible for making smokers sick.
"This is a frightening public health phenomenon," Cuomo said.
He acknowledged more testing is needed to pinpoint the exact substance or combination of substances has been causing the illnesses, however.
"We don’t know exactly what they are smoking or what the consequences are,” Cuomo said.
So far, the Health Department has fielded 41 reports from physicians regarding people treated for lung ailments after they used vaping products. All of those patients used at least one cannabis-related product while also using various other vaping products before becoming ill, state officials said.
Last January, the governor signaled his support for a statewide prohibition on flavored vaping products. However, that measure withered on the vine after lobbyists for vaping manufacturers worked the corridors at the state Capitol.
The Legislature did approve an increase in banning the sale of tobacco products, including vaping materials, to persons under 21 years of age.
New York's health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, acknowledged an ongoing investigation at the Wadsworth Laboratory near Albany is focusing on the possible role of thickening agents — specifically Vitamin E acetate — in vaping-related illnesses.
When such substances are burned and the smoke inhaled, Zucker said the activity can impair lungs and lead to pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses.
A total of 450 cases of vaping-associated lung illnesses have been reported across the nation in recent weeks. The patients are from New York and 32 other states.
Last week, Kevin Burns, chief executive officer of Juul Labs, one of the nation's largest vaping products, told CBS News that the long-term consequences of smoking e-cigarettes is unknown.
He also suggested that many of the vaping-related illnesses that have been reported were caused by people smoking concentrated THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — and not the products his company sells.
Meanwhile, the American Heart Association said a survey of 1,500 e-cigarette users has found that nearly a third of them reported the presence of flavors was a major reason behind their decision to begin vaping. About 44 percent of those vaping said they began using the product as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, according to the association.
The state Health Department said 40% of 12th grade students in New York and 27% of all high school students in the state now use e-cigarettes. The use among high school students has jumped 160% since 2014, the Health Department said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com