New York issuing subpoenas to 3 companies amid vaping crisis

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York announced Monday what it calls aggressive action designed to protect New Yorkers from harmful and addictive vaping products following a rise in associated illnesses nationwide.

Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the Department of Health to take a series of measures to address what he calls two emerging public health crises: The increasing number of cases of vaping-associated respiratory illnesses, and the increasing number of children who are using vape products and developing lifelong nicotine addictions.

Cuomo said health officials will be issuing subpoenas to companies marketing and selling "thickening agents" used in black market vaping products, as well as emergency regulations mandating that warning signs be posted in all vape and smoke shops in the state.

Additionally, the governor announced that he will advance new legislation to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

"Common sense says if you do not know what you are smoking, don't smoke it," he said. "And right now, we don't know what you are smoking in a lot of these vaping substances."

Cuomo ordered the Department of Health to issue subpoenas to three companies that the department has identified as marketing thickening agents to companies that manufacture vape liquids.

They say these thickeners are being marketed and readily available on the internet as a cheaper, safer alternative that does not negatively impact flavoring or odor of existing products and can be used to cut vape products to any level of THC.

The department is ordering them to provide additional information to aid its investigation of this public health crisis.
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Dave Evans reports on the New York vaping announcement.

"The rise in vaping-associated illnesses is a frightening public health phenomenon, and I am directing the Department of Health to take several actions to address this crisis, including starting an investigation into some of these companies that produce vaping substances to find out what's in it and requiring that smoke and vape shops post a warning that lets people know that this is a risky activity," Cuomo said. "I am also going to propose new legislation that will ban flavored e-cigarettes. In the meantime, our advice is quite simple. Don't do it, because we don't know if it's safe."

The companies being served with subpoenas are:
--Honey Cut Diluting Agent by Honey Cut Labs LLC in Santa Monica, California
--Uber Thick by Floraplex Terpenes in Ypsilanti, Michigan
--Pure Diluent by Mass Terpenes in Amherst, Massachusetts

Officials say the Wadsworth Center has obtained samples of thickeners from these three companies and determined that they are nearly pure vitamin E acetate oil. While the investigation is still ongoing, laboratory results have shown very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed by the Wadsworth Center.

Vitamin E acetate is a commonly available nutritional supplement that is not known to cause harm when ingested as a vitamin supplement or applied to the skin. However, the department continues to investigate its health effects when inhaled, because its oil-like properties could be associated with the observed respiratory symptoms.

Anyone experiencing symptoms who uses vape products should contact their healthcare provider immediately. Healthcare providers should report possible cases to the local poison control center (1-800-222-1222). If you are concerned at all with your vaping device or products or just want more information, call the NYSDOH's Vaping Hotline at 1-888-364-3046.

Patients using vape products reported a variety of symptoms, developing over a period of days to weeks, including:
--Pulmonary symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chest pain)
--Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
--Weight loss

"The more info people have the better I feel about selling anything to them," said Andres Gioe, manager of Vape Kingz in Queens. "That's why I usuallly take 5-30 minutes just sitting down and educating customers about every aspect. Making sure they know how harmful it can be."

He said he has no problem displaying a new warning sign which Gov. Cuomo now wants posted in all vaping and smoke shops.

According to the state health department, 40% of high school seniors in New York state vape. It is believed that the increase is because of candy and fruit flavored e-cigarettes that appeal to children.

CLICK HERE for more information from New York State.

A JUUL Labs spokesman issued the following statements regarding this story:

On the latest CDC statement:

"JUUL Labs, which exists to help adult smokers switch off of combustible cigarettes, has been monitoring the situation closely. To be clear, the ingredients of our products do not include THC, any compound derived from cannabis, or vitamin E compounds like those found in THC products. We appreciate the work of the CDC, FDA and other public health authorities and are confident that they will get to the bottom of this issue."

On the New York proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes:

"JUUL Labs exists to help adult smokers switch off combustible cigarettes, which are the leading cause of preventable death and contribute to over 28,000 deaths per year in New York. We do not want or need new non-nicotine users. Our market is the over 1 billion adult smokers worldwide who should have the opportunity to switch to vapor products if they so desire.

"We have never marketed to youth, do not sell flavors like cotton candy or bubble gum, and strongly advocated for Tobacco 21 legislation here in New York. In November 2018 we stopped selling non-tobacco and non-menthol-based flavors to traditional retail stores, which represented 50% of our revenue at that time. All of our non-traditional tobacco-flavored pods are now exclusively sold through our ecommerce platform, which features an industry-leading, third-party, age-verification system that puts every purchase through a rigorous, multi-step process to ensure that the customer is 21 or older and restricts bulk purchasing. We offer these products in this limited, secure way because they play an important role in helping smokers switch by providing users with a taste and aroma different than traditional tobacco.

"We will continue to lead the industry and support industry-wide actions to reverse the trend in youth use, while preserving this unprecedented opportunity for adult smokers, and we will continue to work with New York policymakers in a transparent and collaborative fashion to achieve that goal."

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