Health Officials Call on New Yorkers to Stop Vaping Amid Uptick in Illnesses

State health officials reissued a warning to New Yorkers on Friday encouraging them to stop using e-cigarettes and other vaping products amid a rise in vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths reported across the country in recent weeks. 

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker issued updated guidance for health care providers with clinical information about the 81 known cases of severe pulmonary illnesses confirmed in New York, procedures for reporting case information and instructions on collecting devices for testing at the state’s Wadsworth Center. 

Zucker urged New Yorkers of all ages “to stop vaping until we have better information on what’s causing this public health crisis.” 

The renewed warning came just days after the Public Health and Health Planning Council adopted emergency regulations banning the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes in New York. The state Department of Health will begin enforcing the temporary policy, which exempted menthol and tobacco-flavored products, beginning on Oct. 4, health officials said.

Zucker, in pushing for the flavor ban, argued that it was needed to crack down on the recent spike in youth e-cigarette use, as well as to prevent new cases of vaping-related lung illnesses. 

But while most of the lung illnesses reported in New York have been tied to black market products containing cannabis, the health commissioner told reporters earlier this week that he was not too concerned about vaping devices regulated and sold through the state’s medical marijuana program.

“There’s a risk-benefit issue here: If it’s truly the only thing [patients] can do — using a vaping product — they should know that the medical marijuana program is very closely monitored, and we have not found a problem with it,” he said Tuesday. "We would ask them to speak with the health care provider — the physician, the nurse practitioner — who has actually recommended that they use medical marijuana and whether there’s an option not vaping, or something else."

The health department recently issued guidance on the use of vaping products for medical marijuana patients, which also noted that all New Yorkers are encouraged to stop using vape products until the case of vaping-associated illnesses nationwide can be better determined. 

“There have been no adverse events related to vaping associated with an approved NYS Medical Marijuana Program product since the investigation began. However, out of an abundance of caution, we are also urging patients in the medical marijuana program to consult with their health care providers on potential alternatives to vaping products while the investigation continues,” it stated.

Stephen Dahmer, the chief medical officer for Vireo Health, which participates in New York’s medical marijuana program, said in a statement that his company’s products undergo strict “third-party safety testing to ensure that it does not contain contaminants like mold, fungus, pesticides and heavy metals.” 

Vireo also does not add vitamin E acetate, a compound linked to vaping-related illnesses, in its products, he said.

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