As the number of vaping-related illnesses continues to climb, lawmakers in Connecticut are poised to introduce a bill this winter banning most flavored e-cigarette liquids that they say are enticing to teens and young adults.
“It should come as no surprise that this is something the Public Health Committee will consider next year,” Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a co-chair of the panel, said Thursday. “We will be ready. We’ve written language on banning flavors. We can definitely take this on.”
Connecticut is following several other states that have enacted prohibitions in recent weeks.
The Trump administration said this month that it plans to bar the sale of flavored vaping products at the federal level. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the Food and Drug Administration would outline a proposal for removing flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods from the market.
But states aren’t waiting. New York on Tuesday became the first to greenlight a ban. The state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council voted to outlaw all flavored cigarettes and other vaping products except for menthol and tobacco flavors. Retailers there have two weeks to remove merchandise from store shelves.
Michigan’s ban on flavored vaping products took effect Wednesday. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her executive authority to impose the six-month prohibition, which can be extended. Whitmer said she hopes legislators will write it into law.
Connecticut lawmakers said they’ve already begun to make contingency plans should a federal prohibition stall.
“President Trump announced he was interested in possibly banning flavors, but who knows whether that will happen,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, a member of the public health committee. “That’s why it’s something that is at the top of our list to look at for 2020. The sooner we can have a conversation, the better.”
A ban on flavored e-cigarettes was considered this year, but was left out of the Tobacco 21 bill to give the measure a better chance of success. The bill raising the legal age to purchase tobacco in Connecticut sailed through both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in June.
“We knew it was going to be a tougher road to hoe if we had the flavor ban in at that point,” Steinberg said. “We felt it was so important last year that we get something passed. We didn’t want to jeopardize the prospects of the bill by taking on that additional part.”
Legislators had also been hopeful that the federal government would take action on flavored vaping merchandise. Then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb last year proposed restricting flavored e-liquids to vape stores that can verify the age of all customers.
“We were under the impression the feds were going to do something. We’ve had a number of examples of vows by this current administration to take action and then nothing happens,” Steinberg said.
Connecticut’s ban would likely include a range of flavors, from cotton candy to crème brûlée. At issue is whether it would include menthol and mint – flavors prohibited under some state bans but not others, lawmakers said.
More than 500 cases of mysterious vaping-related illnesses have been recorded nationally this year, with seven deaths reported. Officials in Connecticut said they’ve logged 13 cases locally; no deaths have been reported in this state.
Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, fatigue, nausea, fever and abdominal pain. All patients have reported a history of vaping.
State and federal agencies do not yet know the cause. No single product has been linked to all of the cases.
A spokesman for Lamont said the governor has no plans to impose an immediate ban. Lamont would support a prohibition on the sale of flavored vaping products, provided that it’s “done the right way,” spokesman Max Reiss said.
“We want to make sure we have data, we have science behind it, that the medical community backs what we’re doing,” he said. “We don’t want to jump to conclusions, and we want to make sure it’s a collaborative effort.”
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a member of the public health committee, said he would back a state ban, but it must be supplemented with other efforts, such as better education for parents and children and a crackdown on the marketing of flavored products.
Scanlon, Candelora and Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Branford, have organized a forum for next Wednesday on vaping. The session will include doctors, school officials and lawmakers. It begins at 7 p.m. at the Guilford Community Center in Guilford.
“We need to keep up efforts of education and we need to look at the marketing to kids,” Candelora said. “That’s the next part of the conversation I think we need to have.”