Editor's note: This article was updated for clarity on Oct. 18.
The Center for Disease Control now reports that there have been 26 deaths nationwide attributed to lung injuries caused by vaping. That’s up from 12 reported just three weeks ago.
Hector Balderas, New Mexico’s attorney general, released an advisory statement on Oct.1 suggesting people stop using e-cigarettes until public health officials have fully investigated and determined the causes of unexplained illnesses occurring nationwide.
Speaking on behalf of Balderas, Matt Baca, senior council at the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, said Balderas's top priority is protecting the safety of New Mexicans particularly from products that may be harmful and which companies spend millions of dollars marketing.
“In this instance, our office is actively investigating e-cigarette manufacturers for potential harms in our communities, and it's important that the people in our communities are aware of these risks,” Baca said.
The Vaping Technology Association (VTA) represents the manufacturers, wholesalers and small business owners of vape products. They are a national trade association that is executing a coordinated federal and state lobbying strategy, according to their website.
The VTA advocates for the new legislation to be based heavily on New Mexico Senator George Munoz’s Senate Bill 450, “The E-Cigarette and Nicotine Liquid Act.” The bill was introduced in the 2019 legislative session but never advanced out of committee.
SB 450 aimed to pull e-cigarettes from the Tobacco Act, provide licensure requirements, establish an appropriation to administer the licensure process, allow for vending machine sales and create minor penalties for retailers that are caught repeatedly selling to minors.
The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General said it is still going forward with investigating e-cigarette companies for unlawful marketing of e-cigarettes to minors, and that the office will investigate and prosecute any allegation of death caused by an e-cigarette.
Currently, there is no bill banning the sale of e-cigs to adults in New Mexico. However, the Attorney General suggests that small businesses that are compliant with New Mexico regulations would be selling safe products, according to Baca.
"Small business owners and community members should absolutely work in partnership with health and law enforcement officials to ensure that they are compliant with the law and to ensure that the products they sell are safe and kept out of the hands of children," Baca said.
For New Mexicans, a ban on flavors may be helpful in limiting the number of people — especially minors — exposed to vaping products liquid. For businesses, it could have a large effect on local vaping businesses in New Mexico.
Sherry Hurst of T&S Vapors in Albuquerque said 97% of their business comes from flavored e-cigarette products.
“When people stop smoking, they don’t want that (tobacco) flavor because it makes it so much easier to go back to smoking tobacco,” Hurst said, in relation to why people buy flavored e-cigarette products.
Hurst said the recent outbreak of lung illnesses caused by vaping has been hard on her business, and a ban on flavored products will cause her to start over. She added it’s not fair that small businesses are the ones hurting as a result of lung injuries and deaths related to vaping, because they are complying with state laws and regulations.
“I do not think this is a legitimate vaping crisis, I think it's a legitimate illegal cartridge crisis and they (government officials) need to take care of that,” Hurst said.
Despite the growing concern from the medical community, some think it’s vaping THC that’s dangerous, not the vaping itself.
Amanda Britt is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AmandaBritt_
Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @lissaknudsen