US Vaping Illnesses Top 800, Death Toll Rises As Crackdowns Begin

Erica Brosnan
September 26, 2019 - 2:33 pm
Vaping

Press Association

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — Federal health officials on Thursday announced that hundreds more Americans have been reported to have a mysterious vaping-related illness as the death toll rose to 12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed there are now 805 cases of a breathing illness related to vaping reported nationwide.

The confirmed deaths come from 10 states with two in California, two in Kansas and one in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Oregon.

Most patients sickened have said they were vaping liquids or other products containing THC – the chemical which gives marijuana its high.

Some patients, however, said they vaped only nicotine – prompting officials to advise people to avoid any vaping product until federal health officials can better understand the illness.

Already, multiple states – including New York, Michigan and Massachusetts – have issued statewide bans on vaping products to curb the epidemic.

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In New York, enforcement has been in full-swing and a recent investigation by the Nassau County Police Department found that counterfeit flavored vaping products were being sold in volumes on store shelves, possibly contributing to the epidemic.

As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reports, a box of confiscated products said some counterfeit products were labeled with “Made in Canada” or some labels were covered to make it appear that the product was made in America.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the bottom line is: These products should never be found in stores locally.

“We all like Canada. Canada is a nice country, so you might think, ‘Hey, if it's okay in Canada, it's okay for me.’ However, we don't know if it's even been approved in Canada, this could be counterfeit coming from lord knows where, we don't know,” she said.

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A total of 15 violations were issued during the operation – each carrying a fine of up to $5,000.

Over 70 stores were investigated across the county and a reminder was issued that after Oct. 4, all flavored vaping products will be illegal to sell in New York.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office further announced the ban would expand to include outlawing the sale of menthol vaping products.

"It is clear that vape and e-cigarette companies are using flavors to get young people hooked on their products, and in New York we have taken several actions to put an end to this marketing tactic," Gov. Cuomo said. "In addition to the ban on flavored e-cigarettes already in place and after a thorough evaluation, Commissioner Zucker has recommended a ban on menthol flavored e-cigarettes - I am accepting his recommendation and directing him to hold an emergency meeting to adopt this additional ban at the earliest practicable date."

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

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As New York moves forward with the ban, however, the vaping industry has filed a lawsuit to nullify the statewide rule, saying it unfairly targets former smokers who rely on flavors while failing to address marketing to youth.

Cuomo’s office maintains that the ban is to curb the use of vaping products among teenagers and children after a survey by the Department of Health found that nearly 40% of 12th grade students and 27% of high school students in New York were using e-cigarettes.

The department attributed the use of the vaping products to the fruity and fun-sounding flavors such as fruit punch, blue raspberry and others.

Retailers who violate the ban after Oct. 4 will face fines of up to $2,000 per violation.

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)