California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a crackdown on illicit e-cigarettes on Monday and plans to launch a state-sponsored public awareness campaign about the dangers of the devices amid a nationwide outbreak of serious lung illness connected to vaping.
Newsom’s executive actions instruct state regulators to “reduce youth vaping consumption” by finding ways to ban illegal and counterfeit vaping products.
The Democratic governor also set aside $20 million for a vaping awareness campaign and instructed state health officials to develop signs warning against the hazards of vaping to be placed at retailers and on advertising for e-cigarettes and accessories.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there have been at least six deaths and 450 possible cases of severe lung illnesses related to vaping across the country since the first cases were reported in April. Public health officials have urged people to stop vaping until they can determine the cause of the illness.
“We’ve seen a skyrocket increase in the use of these flavored products by our children,” Newsom told reporters during a morning news conference. “As a father of four, this has been an issue that’s been brought to the forefront of my consciousness.”
The director of the Vaping Technology Assn., which represents manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of vaping products, said he supported Newsom’s call for cracking down on youth access to e-cigarettes.
“We stand ready to work with the governor and interested stakeholders on thoughtful and effective laws and regulations that restrict youth access and do not unfairly advantage combustible cigarettes,” Tony Abboud said in a statement Monday evening. “We also stand ready to work with the governor to allow legal and responsible vape small business owners the ability to continue to operate in a regulated market selling to adult consumers who rely on their access to these life-changing products.”
Newsom said he supports banning all flavored vaping products, but has been advised that he does not have the legal authority to do so without legislative action. The governor said he plans to work with state lawmakers next year to outlaw the products.
Jim Knox, director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in California, said he was disappointed that Newsom’s executive action didn’t go further by imposing an immediate ban, but he was encouraged by the governor’s vow to seek one.
“These proposals are helpful. It’s encouraging that the governor has recognized this as public health crisis and understands the need to do something about it,” Knox said. “We know what’s driving this crisis. It’s flavored tobacco. We have to get flavored tobacco off store shelves.”
The governor’s action came a few days after the Legislature adjourned for the year without acting on a bill by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) that would have increased fines for anyone selling tobacco products, including those for electronic cigarettes, to people under age 21. Gray decided to delay action on his measure until next year so he can explore adding a tax to the bill, a spokesman said.
Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) had earlier proposed to ban the sale of most flavored tobacco products for e-cigarettes, arguing they attract underage users, but he shelved his bill when it was scaled back in a legislative committee.
Hill hopes that the governor’s strong support for outlawing flavored tobacco products will help revive his effort in the next legislative session.
“It certainly has inspired me and I know others to move forward quickly in the Legislature to get to and resolve this problem,” Hill said.
Health groups iblamed the demise of the legislation on an intense lobbying campaign by tobacco companies. In July, the network issued a report that said the tobacco industry has provided more than $2.2 million in campaign contributions to state officials since 2014.
According to the governor’s office, roughly 11% of high school students in California have reported using e-cigarettes, and more than 80% of students who reported using tobacco products use a vaping device.
The governor blamed the increase in youth vaping on the tobacco companies’ use of flavored vapor, and advertising and marketing campaigns targeting young people.
“Let’s just dispense with any niceties. You don’t have bubble gum flavor, mango-flavored tobacco products, unless you’re trying to target an audience that you are losing. That’s young people,” Newsom said.
Last week, President Trump said his administration plans to ban vaping products with sweet and fruity flavors because of escalating concerns about health hazards caused by e-cigarettes and the increase in use by teenagers.
“People are dying with vaping,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “We have to find out the extent of the problem.”
The Food and Drug Administration already has starting crafting plans for a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes until the producer of each vaping product receives government approval.
The term “vaping” refers to inhaling vapor from an e-cigarette, which heats liquid pods that could contain nicotine, cannabis or other substances.
Earlier this month, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took action to make her state the first in the nation to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Whitmer accused vaping companies of using candy flavors and deceptive advertising to “hook children” on nicotine.
On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will push for a ban similar to the one enacted in Michigan.
In Los Angeles County, at least one person has died and a dozen others have been hospitalized for e-cigarette-related illnesses. Almost all of them had vaped products with THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, officials said.
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.