New York became the first major city in the country to ban all flavored vaping products on Tuesday.
The legislation, which passed by a vote of 42-2, will prohibit the sale of all non-tobacco e-cigarette flavors, including the immensely popular mint and menthol varieties. The ban is expected to take effect in July.
“Today New York City is finally addressing a public health crisis which has been mounting for years while governments across the nation did next to nothing," said Councilman Mark Levine, who introduced the legislation earlier this year. "We are finally taking on the resurgence of youth nicotine addiction brought on by the rise of e-cigarettes."
Council Speaker Corey Johnson, himself a recent vaping convert, voiced support for the measure on Tuesday, while acknowledging that he currently relies on mint Juul pods. "Is it going to be difficult for me? Potentially," he said. "What is way more important is us protecting kids."
The bill, which also has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, comes amid a push to address an explosion in teen vaping. According to one survey, more than half of high school seniors in New York said they tried vaping last year—a threefold increase since 2014.
Studies have shown that mint is the preferred flavor among young users, and that "fruity" and dessert flavors are far more popular than tobacco.
The crackdown also comes amid an outbreak of vape-related lung disease that's killed dozens of people nationwide, including at least two New York City residents. Researchers with the Center for Disease Control have linked the sickness to vitamin E acetate, which is commonly used in black market THC vaping products. But a small percentage of those affected by the mysterious disease have insisted that they've only used nicotine vapes, prompting the CDC to warn against using all vape products.
Vaping advocates, meanwhile, say that the flavor ban will wind up hurting adult smokers who turn to e-cigarettes in an effort to quit combustibles. Some will rely on black market products, increasing the likelihood of injury, advocates warn, while others may just continue smoking.
Matthew Elliott, a 28-year-old Long Island resident, compared the prohibition to forcing recovering alcoholics to only drink beer-flavored water. "Parents need to be held accountable for what their kids are doing," he told Gothamist/WNYC. "All this is doing is punishing adults looking to make the transition from smoking to vaping."
During the vote, some of the vaping advocates tossed fake money on the floor of the council, chanting "Big Tobacco thanks you."
The legislation has garnered the support of a host of advocacy groups, ranging from Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes to the NAACP. A companion piece of legislation that would ban the sell of menthol cigarettes in New York City did not come to a vote. Johnson cited "concerns about a black market" stemming from that ban.
New York Attorney General Tish James filed a lawsuit last week against Juul, which holds a 72 percent market share of the e-cigarette industry, for allegedly marketing their products at young people. That company has agreed to suspend the sale of mint, mango, and cucumber pods, but said it will continue selling menthol—at least until they are legally required to stop.
A statewide effort to flavored vaping products was blocked by an appellate court last month.
Additional reporting by Gwynne Hogan.