NEW YORK—Smoke shop owners are suing New York State for banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The ban was supposed to go into effect on Oct. 4 but is now on ice until New York’s Supreme Court decides its fate.
Vape shop owners say that ban will close their stores. “Business will be affected by about 40 percent,” said Mohammad Muhdasham, from the New York Smoke Shop in Manhattan.
The ban specifically aims to reduce vaping among younger people, who prefer the fruity flavors. About 20 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC (pdf).
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the emergency ban last month after a string of mysterious lung injuries caused 26 deaths and damaged lungs in about 1,300 other vapers across the country (as of Oct. 11). The median age of the patients is 24 years old, according to the CDC.
The Mayo Clinic found chemical burns in vapors’ lungs. “It [is] … similar to what one might see with exposures to toxic chemical fumes, poisonous gases and toxic agents,” said Brandon Larsen, a surgical pathologist at Mayo Clinic Arizona, and a national expert in lung pathology.
Larsen said similar injuries cannot be seen in tobacco smokers or in the lungs of a traditional marijuana smoker. He added that what the research just found out is only “the tip of the iceberg.”
A Marketing Success
While New York State hopes a ban will reduce vaping among youth, some marketing professionals don’t think the strategy will be very effective.
Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce product consultancy and an adjunct professor at New York University Stern, said that while “the flavor helps it make it seem safer and fun to use, the real power marketing is the product design.”
“This little e-cigarette looking so cool in the hands. … The kids will bring it as fashion,” said Adamson. And because the design itself is such a powerful signal, “whether the flavor is banned will not make a big difference.”
While researchers scramble to understand what’s causing the outbreak of lung injuries, other states are also taking preventative measures. Massachusetts took the strongest action, imposing a four-month ban on the sale of all types of e-cigarettes. The Vapor Technology Association and vape store owners filed a lawsuit to have the ban lifted arguing it would destroy Massachusetts’s $331 million industry and its 2,500 workers (pdf).
Health officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have also issued guidelines discouraging consumers from using vaping products.