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Cuomo Signals N.Y. Crackdown on Vaping Products After Illnesses

Henry Goldman

(Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered state health officials to require retailers of electronic cigarette products to post warning signs about the health risks after federal regulators reported hundreds of lung illnesses nationwide tied to vaping.

Cuomo also called upon the Health Department to subpoena the records of three marketers and sellers of thickening agents used in black market vaping products, such as liquid derivatives of cannabis. He also called for legislation banning flavored e-cigarettes, which have been criticized by health advocates as a way to hook children.

“Common sense says if you do not know what you are smoking, don’t smoke it, and right now we don’t know what you are smoking in a lot of these vaping substances,” the governor said in a news release announcing the emergency measures. “The rise in vaping-associated illnesses is a frightening public health phenomenon.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the lung-injury cases were appearing most often in people who used vaping products containing THC. Vaping pens with cannabis have boomed in states that have legalized the product and on the black market. The recent spate of severe and sudden lung injuries have cast a shadow over the entire vaping category, both for cannabis and nicotine products.

The closely held companies that Cuomo wants to subpoena sell thickeners that are marketed on the internet as cheaper, safer alternatives that don’t negatively affect flavoring or odor and can be used to cut products to any level of THC. More are likely to be added to the list, the governor’s office said.

Austin Finan, a spokesman for Juul Labs Inc., the largest manufacturer of vaporizing e-cigarette devices, emphasized that his company doesn’t market products including cannabis or its chemical derivatives, or vitamin E compounds such as those suspected of causing the respiratory illness. The company exists, “to help adult smokers switch off of combustible cigarettes,” and supported the 21 minimum wage for tobacco sales in New York, he said.

Juul was not one of the three companies named as targets of New York State subpoenas.

“We have never marketed to youth, do not sell flavors like cotton candy or bubble gum,” Finan said in an email. “All of our non-traditional tobacco-flavored pods are now exclusively sold through our e-commerce platform, which features an industry-leading, third-party, age-verification system.”

(Updates with Juul spokesman’s comment, beginning in sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flynn McRoberts at fmcroberts1@bloomberg.net, William Selway, John Harney

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