As the vaping-related illness and death count continues to grow, toughening state and federal regulations to curb e-cigarette sales are being questioned by clinicians and Collegetown store managers.
Two people have recently died in New York of vaping-related illness, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced — renewing attention over a public health crisis that has so far included over 2,500 vaping related lung injury cases and 59 deaths nationwide.
New York state’s attempt at a full ban on e-cigarettes was delayed, although the New York State minimum age to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products has been 21 since November 2019.
Soon-to-be-implemented U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations have focused on banning most flavors of Juul pods, to deter underage smoking. According to the FDA website, “81 percent of current youth e-cigarette users cited the availability of appealing flavors as the primary reason for use.”
Despite these changes, some clinicians see banning the sale of flavors that might be attractive to young people as an ineffective solution to the growing public health concern of vaping-related illness.
“The proposed ban doesn’t go far enough,” Laura Santacrose, assistant director of the Cornell Health’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, said in an email to The Sun. “The menthol-flavored e-cigs popular with teens will continue to be available in much of the nation. This limitation makes it much less likely that the ban will reduce vaping use among teens.”
Despite the delay on New York State’s attempt at a full ban on e-cigarettes, Juul sales in Collegetown were in decline last semester. Other brands of e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes are also used, but Juul has been one of the more popular brands on campus.
Local vendors are navigating shifting regulations and their effects on business.
“We aren’t selling flavors [of juul pods], only menthol or tobacco, because we heard that the law is going to change on Feb. 4,” Edwin Carrero, assistant store manager of the 7-Eleven in Collegetown, told The Sun. Similarly, Jason’s Grocery & Deli, a local shop in Collegetown, is only selling menthol and tobacco flavored juul pods.
Jason’s Grocery & Deli still sells over 21 flavors of disposable e-cigarettes, called Puff Bars, including fruit flavors such as mango, watermelon, strawberry and grape.
Jason Burnham, the store manager, does not think that disposable e-cigarettes are included under the FDA bans. Burnham also believes that a full ban of e-cigarettes could cause other issues.
“If you ban legitimate sales of vaping products, you’ll create a black market,” Burnham said.
Cornell Health did not confirm whether they have seen vaping related respiratory illness cases. However, they are on the lookout for possible cases.
“Because NY State has seen over 200 cases of vaping related illness so far,” said Anne Jones, director of medical services for Cornell Health. “We keep this possibility in mind when we are evaluating students with upper respiratory symptoms who also share with us a history of smoking or vaping. This is especially important during flu season, when many different illnesses can cause similar symptoms.”
There is little consensus on whether the claim that e-cigarettes are effective for helping people quit smoking is true. Although many people have reported that e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking, e-cigarettes often contain nicotine, which has its own health risks.
According to the American Lung Association website, “nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has been associated with lasting cognitive and behavioral impairments, including memory, attention and learning.”
But research on potential causes for vaping related lung injury and death is continuing to evolve.
“Recently, the CDC confirmed initial findings about the role vitamin E acetate may play in vaping-related illnesses,” Jones said. “Our medical staff will continue to follow these studies, as well as federal and state evidence-based guidelines and recommendations, to help advise and support Cornell students.”
E-cigarettes are not an FDA approved aid for smoking cessation, but there are other options. At Cornell Health, students can buy nicotine patches, make an appointment with behavioral health consultants, and get a free “quit kits” designed to help alleviate symptoms of withdrawal.
“Nicotine is highly addictive, and quitting can be challenging for many reasons,” said Kaitlin Lilienthal, clinical director of behavioral health at Cornell Health, pointing out that the University offers plenty of resources for those looking to stop.
“Thinking about quitting is the first, most important step in any change process, and students do not have to go it alone,” Lilienthal said.
This post has been updated.