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Vaping won't vanish, so regulate thoughtfully

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s emergency ban on flavored vaping products, issued last September, was struck down in January by a state judge, who ruled the state Public Health and Health Planning Council did not have the authority to issue the ban.

Cuomo renewed the effort in his 2021 state budget address.

“Let’s just pass a new law, let’s pass it quickly and let’s ban flavored e-cigarettes,” Cuomo said.

The governor’s executive overreach was struck down, but even legislatively banning all flavors could be problematic for adults wanting to quit. Given that vaping is not going to go away, what Albany needs is a careful evaluation, firmly grounded in facts.

We are disturbed by the use of e-cigarettes, which have likely hooked thousands of teenagers on nicotine. And there is no question that the array of sweet-sounding flavors in some vape shops would make Willy Wonka envious. Many of the candy and fruit flavors were obviously created to appeal to kids. However, some smokers who use e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco, say having some flavor variety is helpful in helping them stay with this less-harmful practice.

A rash of vaping-related illnesses last year prompted government officials to take action. Cuomo enacted the emergency ban and President Trump in September said the U.S. would pull most vaping products off the market.

The federal government backed away from that threat and the Food and Drug Administration came up with a compromise on flavors. The FDA this month banned fruit- and mint-flavored products used in e-cigarettes, but gave a concession to vaping retailers by allowing them to sell flavors in stores from tank-based systems. That allows buyers to mix their own nicotine and vaping juice.

The ban does not apply to menthol and tobacco-flavored products. Those are the only flavors now sold by Juul Labs, one of the most popular national brands.

As public concern grew last year over lung illnesses linked to the activity, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people to stop vaping altogether. The agency recently backed away from that guideline, though it still says youth, pregnant women and non-tobacco users should not vape.

There have more than 2,660 cases of hospitalization and 60 deaths attributed to vaping-related illness since 2019. Experts link the illnesses to the use of vitamin E acetate, an oil often blended with THC products, a popular vaping alternative to nicotine. THC is the psychoactive element of marijuana and many of the individuals who became ill purchased their THC from unregulated sources, such as drug dealers.

There are good intentions behind the rush to ban flavors that appeal to youthful buyers. A story in The News last week detailed ways that Western New York schools are trying to handle what many consider an epidemic of vaping, including the use of surveillance devices in bathrooms.

Vaping under age 21 is against the law. In November, New York included e-cigarettes in the law raising the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21, the same age for the legal purchase of alcohol. Adults can buy a variety of alcoholic drinks that might appeal to underage drinkers, including hard cider, Twisted Tea and flavored vodka.

Adult smokers who use vaping to help them quit traditional cigarettes may enjoy flavor variety in their vaping products. And banning all flavored products could send more nicotine-craving vape users to black market sources, whose safety and supplies are not regulated.

New York should enforce laws already on the books and then craft effective regulations that acknowledge adult smokers who want to quit and, more importantly, discourage kids from starting. An essential part of that goal lies in preventing marketers from targeting them.

That one should be nonnegotiable. No more “Apple Peach Sour.” Tempting teenagers into addiction is depraved.

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