E-Cigarette Task Force Hears Competing Views at Packed Hearing

Leah Mishkin, NJTV News | September 26, 2019 | Health Care
After nationwide outbreak of lung disease among vapers, increased interest in vaping’s effects reflected in big turnout at public hearing in Trenton

With the clock ticking on its deadline for making recommendations on how the state should regulate vaping products, a special task force created by Gov. Phil Murphy met again Wednesday in Trenton, this time taking comments from the public.

A line formed outside the Trenton office building before the public hearing convened by the Electronic Smoking Device Task Force. Among those who packed the hearing room were representatives of all sides of the debate that has arisen in the wake of a nationwide outbreak of lung disease among young users of e-cigarettes.

“[What] we’re here to do is to make sure the adults that are trying to quit smoking have a safer alternative and that the government doesn’t take our options away,” said Nick Jurczyk, the owner of Gorilla Vapes, who was among a group of vaping businesspeople who rallied outside before the hearing against an outright ban on e-cigarettes.

Donna Moreen, a school nurse at South Brunswick High School, disputed the notion that vaping provides a safe alternative to regular cigarettes. “The least I would like to see is a ban on flavored water-vaping products, but what I would really like to see, I’m not sure what’s involved with it, a complete ban on e-cigarettes, especially because we don’t know what the ingredients are.”

Nine cases of vaping-related illnesses in NJ

The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that 530 cases of lung illness have occurred among vape-product users, mostly involving otherwise healthy young people. The number of deaths rose this week to 10.

In New Jersey, nine cases have been confirmed, and 34 others are under investigation.

According to the CDC, the cause of the illnesses is still unknown. Nationwide, many involve vaping THC oil, the compound in marijuana that gets users high.

That’s something many e-cigarette store owners at the hearing said isn’t getting enough attention.

Legitimate sellers versus the black market

“The vapor industry, anybody that’s legitimate, e-liquid sellers, all the deaths and the sicknesses has nothing to do with stuff you can buy in a vape shop,” Jurczyk said. “It’s all illegal, black market THC cartridges that are being made by drug dealers and distributed.”

“What we’re trying to say is there is a difference between this and regular nicotine vaping,” said Adam Rubin, who owns a shop in Egg Harbor Township.

There are still many unanswered questions about e-cigarettes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ranging from long-term effects to whether they are truly effective in helping people quit smoking regular cigarettes.

Despite the uncertainty, FDA acting director Ned Sharpless said: “We cannot allow the next generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine.”

Nationally, one in five high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers had reported vaping as of 2018. That’s more than double the 2017 numbers.

On the federal level, politicians like U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Sen. Bob Menendez have put forward separate plans on regulating e-cigarettes, governing online sales and proposing a nationwide ban of flavored products. The proposals include a freeze on sales altogether until more information becomes available on the cause of the lung injuries and the deaths.

The task force is due to present its recommendations next week.

But state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has said lawmakers don’t need to wait for the findings of a task force to act. He plans to introduce legislation that would make New Jersey the first state to ban the sale of all electronic smoking devices.

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