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As vaping-related diseases continue to occur more frequently across the nation, Gov. Ned Lamont and the Department of Public Health is looking for a solution.

Last week, Lamont hosted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Hartford for a day-long meeting about several regional issues, including vaping, transportation, environment, public safety and legalizing marijuana, among others. Soon after, Lamont announced he would reconvene with Cuomo on Oct. 17, with public officials from both states to begin craft ideas for legislation to address vaping and marijuana legalization.

“It was wonderful to have Governor Andrew Cuomo in Connecticut to discuss issues that are important to both of our states,” Lamont said in a press release. “We not only share borders, but we share economic interests, public health priorities and a joint understanding that the more states work together on these kinds of issues, the better the policy results will be for our residents.”

New York recently became the first state to pass regulations on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products and ban the sale of both items. While Connecticut passed a law to raise the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 earlier this year, the state has no such regulations for vaping.

But following 18 new reports of diseases possibly related to vaping to the Department of Public Health — including five in New Haven County — Connecticut now faces a bigger push to specifically regulate vaping and e-cigarettes. Currently, the Department of Public Health is conducting a national investigation which, to date, has not yet identified any specific vaping substance linked to all the cases. Nevertheless, the department is working with the Governor’s office to encourage citizens to avoid vaping and using e-cigarettes until more research has been done.

In July, the Office of the Connecticut Attorney General William Tong launched a joint investigation with Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection to determine the ethics behind the advertising practices employed by e-cigarette companies like Juul Lab.

According to Tong, Juul previously used inventive flavors and advertising campaigns to appeal to minors.

“The whole system of flavors, like bubble gum and cotton candy, appear to be directed at young people,” Tong said during a July press conference.

But a month later, CEO of Juul Kevin Burns, published an op-ed in the Hartford Courant attesting to the safety of juuling in response to Tong’s lawsuit and other actions attempting to limit juuling in Connecticut. Burns said the company does not attempt to advertise to youth or “non-nicotine users” and added that Juul’s model of business focused solely on adults attempting to stop smoking cigarettes. In addition, Burns wrote that Juul has been widely successful in marketing to adults, partially because cigarette sales have been dropping at a historically quick pace.

“We have taken the most aggressive actions of anyone in our industry to combat underage usage … we responsibly market our product to adult smokers looking to switch from combustible cigarettes.” Burns said. “We are seeing tremendous success so far.”

E-cigarette use carries risks particularly associated with young people, according to the Center for Disease Control’s website. Nicotine can potentially harm adolescent brain development — including the regions of the brain responsible for learning, mood, impulse control and attention. Young people are particularly at risk from nicotine use as the brain continues developing until approximately age 25.

A recent News survey found that around 15 percent of first years at Yale have previously used a Juul product. In July, Yale School of Medicine released a report stating that vape devices have not helped nicotine users transition from smoking traditional cigarettes to using e-cigarettes. The report also warned that acetal —  a potentially dangerous by-product of vaping — often forms in the vaping liquid when solvents mix with flavors.

While New Haven has no legal ban on vaping, mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer told the News that mayor Toni Harp is concerned about the practice and eager to find a solution in the Elm City.

“Mayor Harp is now concerned that vaping could be more dangerous without the stigma of smoking, with lower cost and pleasant flavoring to attract younger users, and with the same harmful exposure to nicotine, a highly addictive, toxic substance.” Grotheer told the News.

A 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that nearly 21 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the United States in the last 30 days.

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu