NEW YORK — Governors from several Northeast states convened in New York City on Thursday to discuss vaping and marijuana, and how regulations between states in the region can be made seamless.
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The Cannabis and Vaping Summit was hosted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with Govs. Philip Murphy of New Jersey, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Ned Lamont of Connecticut. Govs. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts also attended, along with health officials and legislators from several states.
The health issues related to vaping, or which is the use of electronic cigarettes, took on greater urgency with the death earlier this month of a 17-year-old boy in the Bronx, who was New York’s first vaping-related fatality and the youngest in the nation.
“This is a very important topic, and probably one of the most challenging issues I have had to address in New York,” Gov. Cuomo said, opening the summit. “It is complicated, controversial and consequential. If you do not do it right, you can do harm, and the whole point is, we want to do good.”
Among the challenges of both vaping and marijuana laws are there is not much legal precedent to guide legislators, Cuomo said.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana in 2012.
Thursday’s summit examined several issues — vaping, market regulation, public health consequences and public safety.
Regional coordination is important, Cuomo said, because as people travel from state to state, the laws vary, which can lead to complications and confusion.
“This is a regional issue and to the extent that we can collaborate and do this as a collective, that is great,” Cuomo said, acknowledging that coordination between states can be “difficult.”
“We don’t want someone driving from New York or New Jersey to go to Massachusetts to purchase marijuana, and then get caught using it in the car on their way back,” Cuomo said.
Lamont said having uniform regulations — to the extent that is possible — would help.
“This patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all, but this makes sense — sitting down and working together with our neighbors to make sure we do things on a standardized basis, and we do it right,” Lamont said.
Judith Persichilli, R.N., acting commissioner of health in New Jersey, spoke about the health issues related to vaping.
“Back in January of 2018, 60 patients in North Carolina were hospitalized with vaping issues. Not necessarily lung issues, but with vaping issues. That was back in 2018,” Persichilli said. “In August (2019), the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) announced they were investigating vaping-related illnesses. Here we are, 60 days later and 26 deaths have been reported. Make no mistake about it, electronic smoking devices pose a threat to public health and should be avoided at all costs.”
There is good news, though, Persichilli said. The number of school-age children smoking traditional cigarettes declined by 82% between 2000 and 2018. However, 1.5 million students used e-cigarettes in 2017.
“This marks a 78% increase in one year,” Persichilli said.
The rise in the number of youngsters trying or using e-cigarettes is “the largest increase ever reported for any substance in the 44 years of tracking adolescent drug use,” she said.
Much of the increase, Persichilli added, is due to manufacturers making their product appealing to young people with the use of flavored products, such as bubblegum, fruit and candy. In September, New York banned the sale of flavored e-cigarette products. Massachusetts recently banned all e-cigarettes.
The Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., reported vaping-related injuries and illnesses have included severe chemical burns and tissue damage in the lungs due to inhaling noxious fumes, as well as pulmonary illnesses.
The panel recommended states ban flavored e-cigarette products, restrict online sales, increase compliance of stores with existing laws, centralize retailer registries to monitor where vaping products are sold, increase penalties for unauthorized sales and promote educational programs teaching children about the dangers of vaping.
“We have a public health crisis here and we must work together to confront this,” Persichilli concluded.
The summit attendees also discussed market regulation and tax structure for marijuana. One goal is to ensure “the price of cannabis does not fall to a point that increases access and use beyond current usage rates,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.
The panel that examined public health issues revealed the potency of marijuana products is up from including below 10% of the hallucinogenic substance tetrahydrocannabinol to more than 20%. TCH is the ingredient in marijuana that makes the user “high.”
States at the summit agreed to a set of guidelines with regard to both cannabis and vaping products, including restrictions on marketing to minors; banning products that appeal to youth, such as flavors and product packaging; restricting sales to adults ages 21 and over; and requiring all marijuana products are contained in child-resistant packaging, among others.