New York Department of Health Calls Adolescent Vape Crisis Alarming

By Angela Underwood

The New York State Department of Health’s (NYSDOH) Dec. 23, 2019 report detailed by district just how many vaping illness cases were reported across the region.

NYSDOH Spokesperson Jill Montag told The New York Daily Report this week the alarming youth e-cigarette usage numbers speak for themselves.

She’s right.

The NYSDOH reported 223 known cases of vaping-related illness in 2019 affecting 33 of New York’s 62 counties, with the cause of 78 still under investigation. In September of 2019, the NYDOH reported Vitamin E Acetate was in fact the primary contributor to cases of E-cigarette or Vaping product use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI).

“The Department of Health is committed as ever before to pursuing a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products that are driving this increase in usage and putting young people at risk for developing lifelong nicotine addictions,” Montag said.

The CDC reports the detrimental consequences of youth vaping include brain development harm, specifically the parts that control attention, learning, behavior and desire. The NYSDOH said physicians in the state are finding severe lung-related illness among patients as young as 14.

Less than a week after the vaping report’s release on Dec. 29, 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will propose a ban on flavored nicotine and vaping products in his Jan. 8 State of the State address. While the East Coast leader looks out for the welfare of Empire State citizens, Michigan is battling the Vitamin E acetate vaping crisis in a different way.

Since legalizing adult-use cannabis in December of 2019, vaping products that include Vitamin E acetate are on the market, putting consumers at risk. Democrat Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, who governs the Dearborn district and sponsored the bill to ban Vitamin E acetate, said when “we heard about people starting to die, everyone just put their hat on to figure out what was killing them.”

Democrat Rep. Abdullah Hammoud
Democrat Rep. Abdullah Hammoud

That is when Hammoud began drafting the law to ban Vitamin E acetate near the end of 2019.   

“Soon after the CDC confirmed it, we began to advocate for committee hearings and began to advance the legislation,” Hammoud said.

Michigan Attorney Doug Mains, who was part of the committee that drafted Michigan’s adult-use ballot initiative and served as ballot counsel to the ballot question committee, said under the circumstances, he believes Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRTMA) has done a good job dealing with issues related to vaping and vitamin E acetate, although those issues have been exacerbated by problems with the roll out of the state’s cannabis programs.

While the MRTMA does not specifically address product safety, Mains said the law itself is more of a general statutory framework, with broad power delegated to the State to regulate the industry.

“This was done intentionally, in part, because the industry is rapidly evolving,” Mains said. “The legislative process can be laborious and move slowly, and amending a citizen initiative in Michigan requires a three-quarter supermajority vote of both the House and Senate, which is obviously difficult to obtain.”

However, Hammoud is working as fast as he can, noting the legislation that could be considered as soon as next week came “as quick as possible knowing there was an emergent public health crisis.”  

“Conversations with the Judiciary Committee chair have been very positive, and I think as soon as we come back from the legislative break it will hopefully be taken up for a hearing,” he said.
I think this package of legislation is certainly a step forward in the prevention of the vaping illness that is devastating people’s lives.”

As far as the long-term effects of vaping on the lungs, be it tobacco or marijuana, the studies are still out, Hammoud added.

“Recreational cannabis will move forward despite this large setback, but with any emerging market you are always going to have these setbacks, so I think we are going to be learning a lot over the next several years,” Hammoud said.

Mains said for now, regulated businesses are not going to knowingly risk their licenses by using vitamin E acetate as a cutting agent in their products, noting “imposing new regulations on these actors is fine, but will not solve the problem of vaping-related lung illnesses.”

In the meanwhile, the lack of flower available in Michigan’s regulated system makes vaping devices extremely important to the market, according to Mains, noting the products account for a more than a third of all sales at some retail locations in the state.

“Second, the lack of available flower in Michigan continues to require the market to be propped up by product coming from caregivers, which the MRA has sanctioned despite such transfers being illegal under state law,” he said.

Mains added the vaping products that were recalled for failing vitamin E acetate testing all originated with caregivers, leading the State to change its policy and prohibit caregivers from transferring such products to licensed businesses, while still allowing them to transfer marijuana flower into the system.

While Mains said New York and every state that has a regulated cannabis system should mandate vitamin E acetate testing and permissible thresholds for that substance, Montag said the department will remain vigilant.

“While our scheduled enforcement of this ban has been delayed by pending litigation, this is clearly a public health emergency demanding immediate action to help ensure the well being of our children,” Montag said.

The NYSDOH recommends that all health care providers immediately report possible cases to their local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222, and anyone who is experience shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, fever, nausea or vomiting due to vaping, should contact their health care provider immediately.