Gov. Murphy creates vaping task force to probe health concerns

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Amid rising concerns about the safety of vaping by young people, Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday announced the creation of a task force to study the health issues raised by e-cigarettes and make recommendations about what the state should do to regulate them.

The group, called the Electronic Smoking Device Task Force, is to report back to the governor and the state Legislature within 21 days, Murphy said during a press conference where he was joined by lawmakers and members of his cabinet.

“Let me be perfectly clear, many people have no idea what chemicals their vape pen is putting into their bodies,” he said. “The FDA hasn’t had the ability to fully test the safety of these products. As of this moment there is no safe vape. The only safe alternative to smoking is not smoking.”

Murphy said the task force will aim to protect New Jersey residents, especially youngsters, from the public health risks of the battery-powered vaporizers. He said that change in how the state regulates vaping products was likely.

“The status quo will not be an option,” Murphy said. “All others on the table.”

The governor’s announcement comes amid calls at all levels of government to restrict the sale of vaping products. On Wednesday, state Senate President Steve Sweeney said he plans to write legislation that would phase in an outright ban on the sale of all vaping products. Sweeney was among those accompanying Murphy on Thursday.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said his administration was considering a national ban on non-tobacco-flavored vaping products that contain nicotine. Federal authorities had already been working on regulations that would require manufacturers to submit their products for testing and analysis by the government.

E-cigarettes are devices that deliver an aerosol to the user by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. E-cigarettes can also be used to deliver marijuana or other substances, according to the CDC.

The competing regulatory proposals come as national health authorities have reported unexplained and severe respiratory ailments afflicting otherwise healthy young people who are known to use e-cigarettes. As of Sept. 6, six had died and 450 possible cases had been reported in 33 states, including New Jersey, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

During the press conference, acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that three of the cases reported in New Jersey have been severe and required hospitalization. All three patients have recovered. Her department is also monitoring 19 other cases, including the death of one person who’s health was otherwise compromised.

Also with Murphy was Attorney General Gurbir Grewal who called e-cigarette use by young people in the state an “urgent threat to public health in New Jersey.”

His department had requested information from manufacturers and sellers of vaping products and sales techniques. “We believe that e-cigarette businesses are marketing their products at kids,” he said.