ITHACA, N.Y. — Flavored e-cigarettes are now banned in New York. 

On Tuesday, New York State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council voted to adopt a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes, except for menthol. The ban goes into effect immediately, giving retailers a two-week grace period to remove products from their stores. 

Following rising health concerns about vaping across the nation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called attention to what he called a “public health crisis” at a press conference Sunday. 

“Vaping is dangerous. Period,” Cuomo said. 

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said Sunday that the state has had 64 cases of lung disease linked to vaping. There is an ongoing investigation by the state looking into the possible causes of illness. Recent lab results released by the New York State Department of Health point to black-market vape products that contain cannabis, as having the most harmful impact on users. 

“Laboratory test results showed very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed by the Wadsworth Center as part of this investigation,” the report says. Vitamin E acetate is not an approved additive for New York State Medical Marijuana Program-authorized vape products and was not seen in the nicotine-based products that were tested.”

E-cigarettes have been marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, and some studies have found they can help smokers quitBut as vaping has grown more popular, many have questioned the sweet flavors of vape liquids and cartridges — flavors like “blu razz” and “key lime” — saying they appeal to children and create dangerous nicotine addiction. 

Ted Schiele, of Tobacco Free Tompkins, is in favor of the flavor ban for that reason.  

“The flavors are what’s drawing kids in. Nobody starts using vape products for the nicotine,”  Schiele said. “The nicotine is an afterthought when you can’t stop doing it.” 

Local youth were questioned about electronic vapor products for the first time in 2018 as part of a survey by the Tompkins County Youth Services Department and Community Coalition for Healthy Youth. Of the more than 3,700 Tompkins County youth that took the survey, 84% said they had never tried electronic vapor products. But, 25% of 12th graders reported use within the last 30 days.

E-cigarette liquids are available in flavors like “blu razz” and “key lime” in a local store. (File photo/2018)
E-cigarette liquids are available in flavors like “blu razz” and “key lime” in a local store. (File photo/2018)

Nationally, youth e-cigarette use has been climbing. According to preliminary numbers from the National Youth Tobacco Survey released by the FDA last week, about a quarter of high school students were current e-cigarette users and most used fruit and menthol flavors.

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development at Cornell University, studies the neuroscience of risky decision making and its implications for health and well-being. She said the ban may help reduce e-cigarette use among teens. 

“Teenagers make risky choices, which is a natural part of growing up, but it makes them vulnerable to lifelong addictions, such as smoking. Research suggests that the adolescent brain responds more intensely to rewards of all kinds—flavors, food, money, and other ‘reinforcers,’” she wrote in a press release. “No ban on behavior is 100% effective, but risky behaviors are reduced when policies constrain behavior.” 

Several shops on the Ithaca Commons sell flavored e-cigarettes and e-juice. Some in the industry say the local vape stores in Tompkins County and New York State could suffer major losses because of the ban.

A press release from the New York State Vapor Association, which represents businesses such as Unique eCigs in Ithaca, says, “the ban of flavored vapor products, a product category that represents 90% of vape shop sales would force the closure of every Main Street America ‘mom and pop’ vape shop in New York, forcing shop owners into immediate business bankruptcy, likely personal bankruptcy, and force the layoffs of all their employees.”

NYSVA claims they are being unfairly punished for problems they have not contributed to, both in terms of the ongoing health issues being experienced by e-cigarette users, and the accusation that products are being marketed to children. 

The organization faults the Cuomo administration for, “citing illnesses caused by black market THC cartridges laced with vitamin E acetate, a heavy oil that would never be found in commercial nicotine e-liquid,” and “redirecting blame to water-soluble, FDA-regulated e-liquid,” a press release states. 

NYSVA’s statement also claims, “the FDA’s inspection program data confirms Vape shops have an impressive record of age verifying their customers.”

They go on to say, “we believe New Yorkers have a right to health improvement and vape shop owners have a right to sell their regulated products to adults over 21.” 

In a statement issued Thursday, Tompkins County Health Department reminded local residents of some of the risks associated with inhaling the e-cigarette aerosol.

“Protecting youth from fruit- and candy-flavored e-cigarettes is a huge step in addressing this public health epidemic. We do not want another generation of young people addicted to nicotine,” Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said in a news release.

According to the health department, aerosol found in e-cigarettes can contain

  • fine and ultrafine toxic particles that can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs and increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks;
  • heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel;
  • chemicals used for flavoring can cause a serious lung disease commonly known as “popcorn lung”; and
  • volatile organic compounds that can cause long-term health effects including cancer.

The health department said it will work with local retailers to ensure compliance of the state’s ban and educate the public about the risk of these products.

Featured image: “Medix CBD Vape Oil” by oron3 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at