The task force commissioned by Gov. Phil Murphy amid a national spate of unexplained, vaping-related lung illnesses has recommended a ban on all but tobacco-flavored electronic smoking devices and sweeping restrictions on online sales.
Murphy immediately endorsed the panel’s proposals and said he would implement some of its recommendations by executive order. He said he hoped state lawmakers would follow suit and commit the remaining recommendations to legislation.
“We must work together to protect the health and safety of New Jersey’s youth,” he said in a statement released by his office.
The Electronic Smoking Device Task Force met five times in the three weeks since Murphy ordered its creation and appointed acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli as its chair.
Among the group’s other recommendations are increasing penalties for retailers who knowingly sell to minors, requiring warning signs in vape shops and creating a centralized registry of authorized suppliers and retailers.
The ban on flavored e-cigarettes would include menthol. And online sales would only be allowed in limited circumstances, when the age and the identity of the purchaser can be verified.
The panel’s report comes just days after health authorities confirmed the death of a New Jersey woman in August was related to vaping, marking the state’s first fatality. More than 800 cases of lung illness have been reported among vape users, including 14 in New Jersey. Seventeen deaths have been reported across the nation.
“Make no mistake, this is a report that I, nor anyone else here, intends to see placed on a shelf to collect dust,” Murphy said at a press conference in Trenton.
Persichilli noted that federal authorities have yet to identify a single ingredient or product as the cause of the illnesses, although investigators have found more three-quarters of affected individuals used products containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.
The commissioner also pointed to a report by Mayo Clinic researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found samples of lung tissue from 17 patients who used vape products looked as if they had been exposed to toxic chemicals.
Officials suggested a group of young anti-smoking activists who attended the press conference should warn their peers about the dangers, including the fact that e-cigarettes are a nicotine delivery system that expose users to the potential of lifelong addiction.
“You need to bring the message of health to your friends,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, who chairs the Assembly Health Committee. “And say to your friends how dangerous this is and, ‘do you know that there’s nicotine in that device? Do you know that there are harmful chemicals that can take your life?’ You send that message, your peers will listen.”
Legislative leaders are also on record as supporting some form of ban on e-cigarettes, including Senate President Steve Sweeney who has said he favors a prohibition on all electronic smoking devices.