Flavored electronic smoking devices and products should be banned in New Jersey, says Gov. Phil Murphy, endorsing the recommendations of a task force he appointed three weeks ago after a recent wave of deaths and lung diseases that appear to be related to vaping.

In its 32-page report, the task force makes nine recommendations, including restrictions for online sales and increased penalties for retailers and employers who sell vaping products to people under age 21, but the ban on flavored vapes, including menthol, will likely be the most controversial.

Murphy said the priority is to “slam the door on flavored product, which goes directly at hooking kids into this.”

“The various flavors sold at retail stores and online are marketed to appeal to children,” he said. “And we cannot ignore the fact that menthol flavors have historically been used to lure African American consumers. These practices will stop.”

At a public hearing last week, many adults who say they switched from cigarettes to vaping after years of failed efforts to quit smoking implored the state not to ban flavored products. Vape shop owners say the illnesses appear to be linked to illegal cartridges with THC, not the types sold in their stores.

Acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the testimony at the hearing was illuminating but that the task force’s overriding conclusion is that electronic smoking devices pose a threat to public health, particularly for youth.

“Vaping also has nicotine in it. There’s no scientific evidence to date that identifies e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation product,” Persichilli said.

“From a public health perspective, the bottom line remains the same,” she said. “Nicotine is a chemical considered as addictive as heroin and cocaine and is harmful in any form.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Utah has banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes except in adult-only tobacco retailers. Massachusetts has banned all e-cigarette sales for four months. Michigan has banned flavored e-cigarette sales for six months and New York has for four months.

Murphy said most of the proposed changes will require the Legislature to change state law.

In addition to banning flavored products and online sales, the task force wants to overhaul how vaping businesses and sales are regulated, including substantially higher fees for licenses, which currently cost $50, and limiting sales to stores where people under 21 aren’t admitted.

Two lawmakers joined Murphy at a Trenton news conference announcing the recommendations, and others issued statements in general support, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.

“We’ve seen this play before, and we know how it ends. Half the people who take up nicotine and smoking die from the use of these products,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who said flavored projects are designed to hook a generation of young people on nicotine.”

Sweeney last month called for a full, phased-in ban on all vaping sales in New Jersey, not just flavored products, though he didn’t repeat that on a list of possible options Thursday. Such a move would be further than what Murphy is calling for.

“Tobacco flavor vaping used by adults is not the five-alarm fire of concern that we have,” Murphy said.

One of the steps the state is taking immediately is that the Department of Health will be more than doubling, from 12 to 28, the number of inspectors who attempt to complete “compliance buys” to see if tobacco and vaping retailers are checking identifications or selling to underage consumers.

The report also suggests further study of eight other topics, including a higher tax on vaping products and a potential ban on menthol cigarettes.

Murphy said he plans to meet Oct. 17 with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to discuss ways to address vaping on other issues on a regional basis.

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