Gov. Murphy creates task force to probe vaping health concerns

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Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order establishing a task force to come up with recommendations on vaping amid a nationwide health scare over severe lung illness and deaths tied to electronic cigarettes.

The governor signed the order Thursday and announced it alongside officials including the state Senate president and Assembly speaker.

Murphy urged all residents not to vape.

"Don't vape. Until further notice. Period,” Murphy said.

State health officials are investigating three hospitalizations, one death and 19 other cases potentially connected to vaping and e-cigarettes. The governor is giving a task force three weeks to get to the bottom of it. Members of the task force include the state health commissioner and attorney general.

RELATED: President Trump to propose ban on flavorings used in e-cigarettes 

"Many people have no idea what chemicals their vape pen is putting into their bodies. The FDA hasn't had the ability to fully test the safety of these products. As of this moment there is no safe vape,” Murphy said.

Some legislators including Senate President Steve Sweeney say that they want to go further, by banning not only flavored vape products, but by banning the sale of all electronic smoking devices altogether.

"We already have an opioid epidemic and now we see that vaping is becoming a public health crisis,” said state Sen. Shirley Turner.

Turner, a Democrat, introduced a bill last December that would make New Jersey the second state in the United States to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

"They're trying to get a new generation addicted to nicotine with e-cigarettes and particularly using the flavors to hook young kids,” Turner said.

But New Jersey is home to many small business vaping shops – businesses that would be affected by a ban.

Up the street from the State House, Najeeb Saidi is unpacking Trenton Tobacco & Gifts which opens next Monday. He says he has invested $15,000 in the shop and that vape products are a prominent part of his inventory. He says that a ban would “kill” his business.

But the governor said that health concerns are more important than making money.

"Decisions have consequences here. This is a public health crisis…which is why we're here today. That trumps anything else, including people making money off a public health crisis,” Murphy said.

But Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, says that the concerns about vaping are misplaced.

“All evidence continues to point to elicit THC cartridges being responsible for these illnesses,” he says.

Conley says that he supports Murphy’s task force but hopes that people in the vaping community will be involved in the conversation.

The formation of the task force comes one day after President Donald Trump said the federal government would ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes.

Conley says that he does not believe that the banning of flavored vape products will have any effect.

"There's no evidence that banning flavors is going to magically reduce youth usage because we know that the black market is going to fill any holes created by a rule from New Jersey or a rule from the federal government,” he says.

He says that banning vaping altogether will just lead to fewer people quitting traditional cigarette smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state officials have been investigating an outbreak that materialized in the Midwest in July.

Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury. Six deaths have been reported, all adults and at least some with pre-existing lung problems.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.


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