COLUMBUS, Ohio—Following a number of severe illnesses caused by vaping, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday his legal team is looking to see whether he has the authority to ban flavored e-cigarettes.
“This is a public health crisis,” DeWine told cleveland.com, noting that more than a dozen Ohioans aged 16 to 26 have been hospitalized with severe lung disease because of vaping. Nationwide, seven people have died recently from a vaping-related illness.
In addition to the illnesses, DeWine said flavored e-cigarettes – which, critics say, often appeal to young people more than cigarettes — are undoing the work that public-health workers and policymakers have done to keep young Ohioans from becoming addicted to tobacco and nicotine. Those efforts include a new state law that, starting Oct. 17, will raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products – including vape pens – from 18 to 21.
“We’re addicting a whole new generation of kids to nicotine,” the governor said. “This is unprecedented. We have been basically moving forward [on nicotine addiction] for a long, long time – we are now moving way back in Ohio because of the number of kids who are getting addicted to nicotine.”
DeWine’s comments come a week after President Donald Trump announced his administration is working to ban all non-tobacco flavored vaping products, which vaporize a liquid (which often, but not always, contains nicotine) for users to breathe in. The federal Centers for Disease Control has recommended that all Americans abstain from vaping while it investigates the illnesses.
Last week, the Ohio Department of Health announced a number of new initiatives to prevent and reduce vaping among teens, including an $800,000 public education campaign about vaping and the new legal smoking age, as well providing an additional $3.3 million to create educational tools that community groups can use to warn people (especially young people) about the dangers of vaping.
However, if Ohio bans flavored vaping products, it will all but wipe out the state’s 650-plus vaping stores, said James Jarvis, president of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association, a vaping industry trade group.
That’s because flavored vaping products make up about 85 percent of those stores’ sales, Jarvis said. “That industry will go away within the time frame that we have to pull the flavors off the market,” he said.
Jarvis noted that DeWine said in April that he wasn’t going to go after vaping sales to adults. “We’re disappointed that the governor appears to be turning his back on the adult vapers he professed to support in April,” he said.
The Vapor Technology Association, a national industry group, has pointed to reports stating that the recent illnesses are linked to THC and cannabis, not e-cigarettes. In a statement, the national association accused several (unnamed) public health agencies of “unnecessarily frightening consumers by failing to distinguish between e-cigarettes and non-nicotine vaporizers.”
Banning flavors, Jarvis said, will “undoubtedly push adults who vape back to traditional tobacco,” and it will lead to a black market in flavored vaping products.
“People will start mixing liquid in their kitchen, and you’re going to see people get sick,” Jarvis said.