WATERTOWN — In light of the growing number of hospitalizations of young people displaying pulmonary issues, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Health are not only urging New Yorkers to cease the use of vaping products until an investigation into the products and their effects can be concluded, but also issuing subpoenas to companies marketing and selling “thickening agents” used in black market vaping products.
Over the weekend, Gov. Cuomo announced the DOH would be issuing guidance urging New Yorkers to temporarily stop using vaping products while the investigation into the definitive cause of reported vaping-associated illnesses nationwide can be better determined, but Monday took a more aggressive stance. The governor and the DOH are also issuing emergency regulations mandating that warning signs be posted in all vape and smoke shops in New York State and Gov. Cuomo announced that he will advance new legislation to ban flavored e-cigarettes.
“The rise in vaping-associated illnesses is a frightening public health phenomenon and I am directing the Department of Health to take several actions to address this crisis, including starting an investigation into some of these companies that produce vaping substances to find out what’s in it and requiring that smoke and vape shops post a warning that lets people know that this is a risky activity,” he said during his announcement. “I am also going to propose new legislation that will ban flavored e-cigarettes. In the meantime our advice is quite simple: don’t do it because we don’t know if it’s safe.”
As of Sept. 5, the DOH has received 34 reports from New York state physicians of severe pulmonary illness among patients ranging from 15 to 46 years of age who were using at least one cannabis-containing vape product before they became ill. Out of those reports, only one has come from the Central New York region so far, with most coming from New York City and the greater metropolitan area, according to Faith Lustik, health planner for the Jefferson County Public Health Service.
Though the north country has yet to see negative effects from vaping, until further testing can be done, the area is not in the clear. In Watertown alone, there are a handful of vape/e-cigarette stores, including Clouds Over Watertown, Unique eCigs, Interstate Vape 3, and Dusty B’s Just Vape.
Jay Brown, owner of Dusty B’s Just Vape, 48 Public Square in Watertown, said vaping, like alcohol and cigarettes, should be used in a responsible adult manner.
“It’s up to the responsibility of the person using it, lots of the reports are about underage kids using them and taking them to the limits,” he said.
With recent legislation raising the vaping age to 21, Mr. Brown does not expect his business to be affected by Gov. Cuomo’s weekend statements and said that if people don’t think vaping is healthy, they just shouldn’t do it.
Packaged in colorful, iridescent boxes with cartoon drawings on the front advertising flavors like Sour Patch Kids and Runtz, it’s not hard to see why these products appeal to youths.
“In general, e-cigarettes and all of those types haven’t been studied for the long-term effects, and it’s concerning having incidents where young people are hospitalized for these,” said Ms. Lustik. “People should be aware that it’s risky because it’s not regulated, so until we can find out where they’re coming from, they should be avoided.”
Ms. Lustik urged the public to call the 24/7 Quit Line, 1-866-NYQUITS, for help cutting ties with smoking and smoking products.
Originally marketed as a way for smokers to say goodbye to cigarettes, e-cigarettes are now being used by about two million middle and high school students, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As we work to identify what is causing otherwise healthy young people to become ill, state health officials and doctors are finding clinical similarities that will help doctors identify patients more quickly,” said Dr. Dana Meaney Delman, incident manager for the response to the outbreak, during a telebriefing Friday concerning the investigation of pulmonary disease among people who use e-cigarettes. “And, while the investigation is ongoing, CDC has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing this type of severe lung disease.”
At this time, there have been a few reported deaths in various states linked to e-cigarette use, as well as hospitalizations.
During Friday’s telebriefing, Dr. Ileana Arias, senior scientific adviser and acting deputy director for Non-Infectious Diseases at the CDC, said that in addition to the death in Illinois already reported, the CDC learned last week of another death that occurred in July in Oregon and another in Indiana. In addition, they are aware of one other death still under investigation as a possible case.
“We are keeping the families and friends of all those affected by this illness in our thoughts, and CDC, FDA, and our state partners are working around the clock to find out what is making people sick,” she said.
At this time, no one device, product, or substance has been linked to all cases.
“Continued investigation is needed to better understand if a true relationship exists between any specific product or substance and the illnesses observed in patients,” Dr. Delman said. “To find the answer we will need to combine information about e-cigarette use, and product sample testing and the clinical information from patients.”
According to a statement from Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Vaping-Associated Illnesses, the Wadsworth Center, New York State’s public health laboratory, is testing both cannabis and nicotine-containing vape products from those experiencing serious lung-related illnesses.
“Common sense says if you do not know what you are smoking, don’t smoke it,” Gov. Cuomo said. “And right now we don’t know what you are smoking in a lot of these vaping substances.”
If you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one who is using an e-cigarette product, contact your health care provider, or your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.