After Deaths, Ban on Flavored Vapes to Be Passed by New York City

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The New York City Council agreed on Thursday to ban flavored e-cigarettes amid heightened concerns about the use of such products, making New York City the most populous jurisdiction in the country to impose such a ban.

The ban would cover all flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquid vaping products, including ones that are menthol flavored. At least 30 members of the 51-member City Council have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation.

Similar bans have been introduced or are being considered around the country: Voters in San Francisco approved a referendum to ban flavored vaping products in June 2018, and the Massachusetts Legislature passed a ban on flavored tobacco on Wednesday.

Other states, including New York and Michigan have attempted to impose temporary bans on flavored vaping products through executive orders, but those efforts have been stalled by lawsuits challenging the moves.

“The vaping industry launched a full-force effort to stop this because they knew if it was done here they couldn’t stop it across the country,” said Councilman Mark Levine, a Democrat from Manhattan who is chair of the health committee and the bill’s primary sponsor. “If we can do it here, it will go nationwide.”

There is already a national momentum building against e-cigarette use. The attorneys general of New York and California each filed lawsuits against Juul this week, charging that the company practiced deceptive marketing by failing to mention that their products contained nicotine and also targeted young people with enticing flavors like mango.

On Tuesday, the A.M.A. called for a “total ban on all e-cigarette and vaping products” that do not meet Food and Drug Administration standards as smoking cessation tools.

New York City already has a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, but menthol-flavored products and e-cigarettes were not included.

The new legislation, which is expected to be passed by the City Council on Tuesday, includes menthol-flavored products; the only vaping liquid that would be allowed for sale are tobacco-flavored products. The bill would then go to Mayor Bill de Blasio to sign.

“The mayor supports it. We will either sign it or let it lapse into law,” said Freddi Goldstein, Mr. de Blasio’s press secretary.

The Council, however, set aside a companion measure that would have banned the sale of menthol cigarettes amid concerted lobbying efforts and opposition from the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose nonprofit National Action Network has regularly taken five-figure contributions from the tobacco giant Reynolds American.

That legislation has come under attack from some civil rights activists who say that since menthol cigarettes are largely smoked by African-Americans, banning them would create an underground market that could lead to tragedies like the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after a confrontation with police officers who accused him of selling loose cigarettes. Others have argued for a ban, citing health concerns.

Mr. Levine said there is still a “strong commitment” to the menthol ban.

Kirsten John Foy, a civil rights activist who was formerly a part of Mr. Sharpton’s organization, said that delaying a menthol cigarette ban was a capitulation to the tobacco industry.

The vaping industry’s lobbying efforts have also been strenuous, if less successful. In 2019 alone, Juul paid more than $250,000 to lobbyists from five separate firms to lobby on its behalf in New York City, mostly related to the flavored e-cigarette bill, state filings show. (The company also paid to lobby against restrictions in Albany.)

The City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who has shared on social media about his use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking cigarettes, “proudly supports” the vaping legislation, said his spokeswoman Jennifer Fermino, and is meeting with stakeholders to find a compromise on the menthol ban.

Vaping industry officials have said generally that removing their products from the market would eliminate one tool that adults have used to help stop smoking cigarettes. The Vapor Technology Association, a trade industry group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

But in a sign of the mounting pressure, Juul stopped selling its non-menthol flavored products in the United States in October.

New data from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows what they called a “disturbing” rise in the use of e-cigarettes by youth that is “reversing progress” made in the decline of tobacco use by young people. In 2019, more than 5 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes, up from 3.6 million in 2018, a 39 percent increase.

Nearly 50 people have died in recent months from respiratory illnesses that the authorities have connected to vaping, including a 17-year-old Bronx boy who was believed to be the first teenager in the United States to die of a vaping-related illness. On Wednesday, the New York State Department of Health confirmed the death of a Manhattan man in his 30s from an illness associated with vaping.

Mr. Levine, a married father of 16- and 19-year old sons, said one of his sons used to vape but has since quit.

“This issue is personal with me,” Mr. Levine continued. “They have been surrounded by vaping since the moment either of them got to middle school and the temptation is irresistible.”

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