When a crisis occurs, the best thing to do is:
Option 1: Nothing
Option 2: Something
With the U.S. in the midst of a teen vaping crisis, New York state has chosen Option 2. Today, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the Empire State has become the first state to ban the sale of flavored electronic cigarette, otherwise known as e-cigarette, products. After the State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council convened for an emergency vote called by Cuomo, this ban is now in place. Retailers will have a grace period of up to Friday, October 7 to stop selling such products.
In an accompanying statement, Cuomo said that “It is undeniable that vaping companies are deliberately using flavors like bubblegum, Captain Crunch and cotton candy to get young people hooked on e-cigarettes – it’s a public health crisis and it ends today.”
The announcement also included some crisis-y statistics from the New York State Department of Health: “nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students in New York State are now using e-cigarettes.” Additionally, in 2018, over a quarter of high schoolers (27.4%) were e-cigarette users, up 160% from 2014.
New York is not the first state to announce a ban of flavored e-cigarette products. On September 4, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer indicated that such a ban would take place in her state. She described her decision to take action on the following episode of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe”:
In the segment, Whitmer said that she took action because “we can’t wait on Washington, DC.” Michigan may have announced it first, but New York is the first to actually enact such a ban. As Erica Edwards reported for NBC News, the Michigan ban isn’t quite in place yet and should go into effect a few weeks after her September 4 announcement.
In his statement, Cuomo indicated that, “New York is not waiting for the federal government to act, and by banning flavored e-cigarettes we are safeguarding the public health and helping prevent countless young people from forming costly, unhealthy and potentially deadly life-long habits.”
As you can see both Whitmer and Cuomo referenced the urgency of the crisis and the relative lack of action by the federal government in explaining why they moved forward with the bans. Indeed, the Trump Administration’s plans regarding flavored e-cigarettes currently seem a bit in limbo, and I don’t mean the dance where you bend over backwards while moving under a bar.
Sure, there was that statement by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in last Wednesday’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new release. Azar had said: “The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities.” OK, so “clear the market” at the time seemed to be a fairly clear statement. The only question then was what specifically would be done, when, and how. At least, the why seemed all set.
Ah, but just two days later, President Donald Trump sent out the following tweet:
Not quite as clear as “clear the market.” Add huh, to what, when, and how. Is the Trump administration going to end up banning flavored e-cigarette products? One has to wonder if the title of the Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin movie “Definitely, Maybe” applies here.
Why is there any equivocation about flavored e-cigarettes? After all, there aren’t bubble gum, Captain Crunch, cotton candy, or Alien Piss cigarettes on the market. That’s because the U.S. Congress banned flavors that weren’t menthol or tobacco via the Family Smoking and Tobacco Prevention Act of 2009 based on concerns that such flavors would target kids. The question then is why should e-cigarettes get a pass. If the main purpose of e-cigarettes were to help people quit tobacco use, then why oh why won’t the tobacco flavors alone do for e-cigarettes?
This probably won’t be the last that you’ll hear from New York, Michigan, and other states on e-cigarettes. It remains to be seen how long it will take to hear more from the Trump Administration regarding the teen vaping crisis. In meantime, without further action, things will only get worse, because that’s how crises work.