HEALTH

Jersey City officials move to ban sale of flavored e-cigarettes

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

State lawmakers in Trenton have yet to follow through on pledges to restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New Jersey, but in Jersey City officials say they will enact a local ordinance banning the sale of flavored vapes in the state’s second largest city.

Three members of the city council, all members of the Black Caucus, said Friday they had introduced legislation encompassing a prohibition on all sales as a way to protect youngsters from e-cigarettes, which have been the focus of concerns among public-health agencies investigating a spate of unexplained lung disease among vape users.

“The purpose of this ban specifically targeting the flavored tobacco product is the belief that electronic cigarette companies are targeting young people through candy and fruit-flavored products to lure them into vaping,” said Mayor Steven Fulop in a statement.

Separately Friday, the Centers for Disease Control said it had identified a possible culprit in 39 deaths and more than 2,000 illnesses in the nation among vapers. The federal agency reported it has found vitamin E acetate — a compound often found in vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — in all 29 lung tissue samples taken from affected patients.

The Jersey City council members said they are moving quickly to implement a local ban, looking to get the law on the books by the beginning of the New Year, after meeting with school leaders who said the problem of vaping among youngsters is escalating.

“This is a very alarming issue, so our goal is to hopefully reduce the appeal to young people by banning the flavors,” said Councilwoman Denise Ridley.

Nationally, one in four high school students report using an e-cigarette. And in 2019 nearly 5 million middle and high school students reported using vaping devices, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In New Jersey, the state Department of Health have confirmed 31 reported vaping-related injuries and one death as of Oct. 23.

“We watched this decades ago, before when they were coming out with cartoon characters to advertise cigarettes,” said Councilman Jermaine Robinson. “I think this is just the same thing.”

Juul — the dominant manufacturer of e-cigarettes containing nicotine and the target of criticism over its marketing practices — has announced it’ll stop selling all but menthol and tobacco flavors.

On Friday, the company released a statement in the wake of the CDC announcement:  “The ingredients of our products do not include THC, any compound derived from cannabis, or vitamin E compounds like those found in THC products,” it read.

Vape shop owners in Jersey City expressed dismay over the proposed local ordinance.

“If they ban it here? We’ll have to close down,” said David Orjuela, the owner of Ivape in Jersey City Heights, where he sells e-cigarettes with such flavorings as cotton candy and cupcake.

“We do have a couple other things, other than vapes,” he said. “But it’s a small percentage. Maybe 10, 15%. 80% to 90% is all vape related.”

Among city residents, reaction to the proposed ban was mixed.

“I think it’ll be good for the youth because I’ve seen middle schoolers with Juuls in their pockets, and I don’t know how they’re getting them,” said Kenny Polanco. “Like, I saw my cousin with one and I was … on a whole other level of mad.”

But Greg Roman though a total ban is an overreach.

“Things shouldn’t be marketed to kids,” he said. “But adults if they want a flavored e-cig, they should be able to get a flavored e-cig.”

Vape-shop owners also said officials should allow responsible stewards to stay in the market, as they do with those who sell alcohol.

“If they really want to fix that the major teen issue is ban it online. Ban it from gas stations,” said Orjuela.

Ridley said the proposed ordinance is not an attack on merchants.

“We love our small businesses here. We want them to thrive. We love our local entrepreneurs,” she said. “But we love our kids.”