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New York moves to ban menthol-flavored e-cigarettes

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Mark Lavonier
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WRVO News (file photo)

New York’s ban on flavored electronic cigarettes could soon be extended to menthol e-cigarettes. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, is now recommending that menthol-flavored e-cigarettes be taken off the market in New York.

Cuomo says the Public Health and Health Planning Council will soon convene an emergency meeting to vote on a ban. The recommendation comes one week after the council voted to ban flavored e-cigarettes, effective Oct. 4.

Cuomo, in a statement accompanying the announcement, says a study by the health department and the CDC found that one-third of underage vapers are attracted to the menthol products, a figure not much lower than the 51% of teenaged vapers who say they like flavored e-cigarettes. 

“We can't sit back and wait for the federal government to take action while a whole new generation becomes addicted to nicotine,” Cuomo said in a statement. “And this ban on the sale of menthol flavors further enhances our efforts to protect young people from forming dangerous lifelong habits."

The decision was applauded by health groups, including the American Cancer Society.

It comes as a national health crisis stemming from vaping has sickened hundreds and killed several people. All had been vaping, but evidence so far points to additives to illegal cannabis vaping products, and not to nicotine-based vaping substances.

The owners of vaping shops in New York say the ban will put them out of business, and they have filed a lawsuit in civil court.

The executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, which represents manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of vaping products, said New York’s ban unfairly targets former smokers who say they rely on flavors while failing to address marketing to youth.

“Bans are prohibitions and they lead to people reverting to smoking or a black market,” Executive Director Tony Abboud said. “But an actual policy discussion about limiting marketing is something we’ve been trying to have with regulators and laid out a plan for.”

Abboud said instead of banning flavors, his group would support banning the use of kid-friendly names and marketing for tobacco flavors.

The Associated Press has reported that proponents of vaping, including tobacco companies and the Vapor Technology Association, have spent tens of thousands of dollars to successfully fight proposed flavor bans in state legislatures this year. Convenience store owners who say flavored e-cigarettes bring in customers have also opposed such efforts.

The vaping industry’s trade group is now prepared to go to court to fight flavor bans announced by governors in other states, Abboud said. In Michigan, the owner of a vape shop sued Wednesday to halt that state’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes.

In response to the lawsuit, Cuomo’s senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said that the children’s future is at stake.

“Bring it on,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.