New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has put together a 10-member task force charged with making recommendations on how the state can deal with what officials have called the “epidemic” of electronic cigarette use.
The announcement came as the U.S. continues to grapple with a mysterious respiratory illness related to vaping that has sickened at least three people in New Jersey with another 19 cases under investigation by state health officials.
“We’re saying in no uncertain terms: don’t vape,” Murphy said at a Thursday afternoon press conference. “Give us three weeks to determine the answers to a lot of these questions, which are imponderable, frankly. I don’t think anybody’s got all the answers right now.”
The state has also requested information from 15 e-cigarette companies, including the vaping giant Juul, about their sales and marketing practices, amid fears that flavored products are being improperly advertised to children.
“The information we are demanding will help us demonstrate the full scope of the problem here in New Jersey, and it will establish who is responsible, so we can hold them fully accountable for their actions and put an end to illegal marketing practices that put our kids’ lives at stake,” said state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to people under age 21 in New Jersey.
Although health experts do not yet fully understand the risks associated with vaping, state officials stressed that some of the chemicals in e-cigarettes are toxic and that nicotine remains addictive.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned people not to use vaping products purchased off the street while public health officials continue to investigate the cause of the illnesses.
The New Jersey task force will look at several strategies to deal with e-cigarette use, including legislative and regulatory changes, developing a new statewide awareness campaign, and putting warning signs in stores that sell vaping products.
What is unclear is whether Murphy supports an outright ban on all vaping and electronic cigarette use, as State Sen. President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has called for.
“We’re losing another generation of children. We had great success in reducing smoking. We all should be proud of that. Underage smoking went down,” Sweeney said. “Now the tobacco industry has found another way to hook kids, and it’s not right.”