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Sept. 24, 2019: Testimony of Cathy Bennett, NJHA President and CEO, Presented to the N.J. Electronic Smoking Device Task Force

New Jersey has been a leader in curbing the ill effects of tobacco with the Smoke Free Act in 2006, by raising the smoking age to 21 in 2017, and again this year by adding e-cigarettes to our state definition of tobacco products. Despite those efforts, we’re facing a growing health threat – one that we are seeing in rapidly escalating cases in our hospitals of illness linked with vaping.

We applaud Commissioner Persichilli’s leadership in raising awareness among clinicians as well as the general public about the dangers of vaping, as the state investigates 15 cases of severe lung disease in people who use these products.

Hospital cases linked to vaping in New Jersey are on pace to more than double from 2017 through 2019, with a projected 16,000 cases by the end of this year. The peak incidence is in the 18-24 age group. And our data, from NJHA’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation, is almost certainly undercounting the true scope of the issue, since discharge data and billing codes aren’t designed to capture actual incidence.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the serious lung illness that has affected 530 e-cigarette users nationwide, according to the CDC. But what we do know is this: The CDC states that vaping products and e-cigarettes are known to contain heavy metals and potentially toxic organic compounds that can pose significant health risks for adolescents, young adults and pregnant women. We also know that some of the companies that make and market these products are under investigation for deliberately targeting the youth market – the very individuals whom the CDC says are most vulnerable to vaping-related illness.

And, we know that illegal additives like THC (which provides marijuana’s psychotropic effect) have been associated with a significant number of vaping-related injuries. If you’ve ever seen a chest X-ray or CT scan of someone with vaping-related illness, you see white, opaque shadows in the lungs, but without the infection that you would usually expect to see. Almost all of these individuals need help breathing to alleviate the chest pain or halting breath that they experienced after using vaping products.

This is more than a public health challenge; it will also require the attention of law enforcement and regulatory safety agencies to investigate the product supply chain and the bootleg products with unknown, and dangerous, ingredients.

New Jersey has successfully reduced its youth smoking rate to just 4.7 percent. That’s almost half the national average. But the DOH Youth Tobacco Survey found that one in five high school students in New Jersey vaped regularly during the 2016-2017 school year. Make no bones about it – vaping is creating addiction in a new generation, with untold health effects in the years to come.

A good start to confront this threat would be to:

  1. Support law enforcement efforts to crack down on the sale of illicit vaping products with a focus on the supply chain, not individuals who purchase.
  2. End the marketing of these products to youth
  3. Support sound policy already in the legislative pipeline, such as S-992/A-1723, which prohibits the sale of tobacco products and electronic smoking devices at pharmacies
  4. Fund public health prevention and education efforts.

The vision of population health is to create a health system focused on keeping people well in their communities, rather than treating sick people in hospital beds. Vaping represents a challenge – and an opportunity – to do the right thing to protect the health of the people of New Jersey.

NJHA applauds Gov. Murphy, Acting Commissioner Persichilli and the task force members for this examination of the risks of vaping and e-cigarette use. We urge you to continue New Jersey’s legacy of leadership by taking action to protect our communities from this rising health threat.