Like elsewhere around the country, the state of California has been hit hard by the ongoing crisis of vape-linked illnesses and deaths. But even though state health authorities say many of the cases of sudden lung sickness involved patients vaping cannabis, Governor Gavin Newsom is zeroing in on nicotine. And not just nicotine products like e-cigarettes, but the amount of nicotine inside them.
Newsom’s two-page executive order almost exclusively concerns itself with the nicotine content of electronic cigarettes, proposing new taxes and new regulations based on how much nicotine an e-cig contains. But so far, investigations into the causes of the mysterious vape-related illnesses haven’t pointed to nicotine. Instead, they’ve pointed to the additives used to manufacture vape liquids, such as vitamin E acetate.
California Gov. Newsom’s Order Isn’t Banning Vapes
If California Gov. Gavin Newsom had his way, he’d outright ban vapes across California, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did with his recent emergency executive action banning flavored e-cigarettes. But to do that in California, Newsom would need the support of lawmakers, a fact that seemed to take the governor by surprise. “It appears the governor alone is not afforded the right, legally, to ban those products outright,” Newsom said.
Instead, Newsom did what he has the power to do: issue an order directing state agencies and resources to combat the vape crisis. And in California, that crisis is getting worse. Since August, hospitals and doctors offices have documented the emergence of an unknown clinical syndrome linked to recent vaping. The syndrome involves acute respiratory failure, and it has struck everyone from the young to the old and the ill to the healthy.
By mid-September, 63 cases of the vape-linked syndrome had been reported. But officials think the actual number could be much higher. 28 of those cases involved patients who needed intensive care units. 19 others required mechanical breathing machines. 1 patient, an older man with chronic health issues, died after consuming a cannabis vape product.
Newsom’s executive order lists these grim statistics, and it acknowledges their link to illegally-obtained and produced cannabis products. But Gov. Newsom doesn’t have the power to change cannabis regulations, which already include testing and labeling requirements for vapes and other concentrates products. E-cigs and other non-cannabis vape products, on the other hand, have no manufacturing standards at all.
California To Launch Vape Awareness Campaign Modeled on Anti-Tobacco Ads
In California, there are at least licensed retailers selling (for the most part) tested and regulated products with clear labelling. But nothing like that exists for e-cigs. Gov. Newsom’s executive order aims to change that. It orders the California Department of Public Health to create warning signs for retailers selling vape products about the health risks of vaping. It also directs the health department to recommend new standards for nicotine content and uniform packaging. Public health officials have until October 14 to submit those recommendations.
Newsome is also tapping the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration to revise taxes to include nicotine content in the calculation of the existing tax on e-cigarettes. CDTFA is also ordered to develop recommendations to remove illegal or counterfeit vaping products from stores and to increase its enforcement of tax evasion. The agency has until October 29 to report back.
Newsom’s executive order also directs multiple state agencies toward combatting youth vaping, from cracking down on retailers who sell to underage customers to investing in public awareness campaigns. The Public Health Department will set aside at least $20 million for cannabis and tobacco vaping awareness programs. The campaign will utilize digital and social media messaging targeting youth, young adults and parents.