TRENTON, N.J. — Candy, cocoa and chocolate, as well as any other flavor of e-cigarette, are among the flavors New Jersey lawmakers sought to prohibit on Thursday, along with a separate ban on menthol-flavored traditional cigarettes.
New Jersey’s Democrat-led Assembly and Senate health committees advanced the legislation after several hours of testimony that drew crowds of supporters and opponents to the statehouse annex.
Supporters of the flavor ban say it hooks kids on nicotine. Opponents worry the ban would lead to a black market and could also hurt some businesses in the state.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy supports banning e-cigarette flavors since a commission he established to come up with the state’s response to nationwide vaping-related outbreak recommended the prohibition last month.
His office declined to comment on the menthol cigarette ban.
That measure sparked some heated rhetoric from one lawmaker in particular.
Democratic state Sen. Ronald Rice, of Newark, chairs the Legislative Black Caucus and opposed the legislation. Rice pointed to the timing of the prohibitions coming as the state is also considering legalizing recreational marijuana, which he also opposes and says would likely harm the black community because he says businesses would likely be controlled by large, white-run companies.
“I'm an African-American. I’m a black legislator, and we continue to have folk in the Legislature and the governor tell us what's doing harm to the black community,” Rice said. “We know what harms us as a people and a community.”
Lawmakers say they’re seeking to ban menthol cigarettes in particular because they’ve been marketed to black consumers for decades.
Senate health committee chairman Democratic Sen. Joe Vitale says he agrees with Rice that it’s important for lawmakers to understand the communities that legislation will affect.
“I’m a middle-class white legislator. I can’t pretend to understand what life is like in some of those underserved communities,” he said in a phone interview.
The e-cigarette flavor ban goes back to 2016 but took on new urgency earlier this year when more than 2,000 Americans, many of them young people, have gotten sick this year from vaping. At least 40 people have died.
The cause of the outbreak was still a mystery when Murphy’s panel recommended the flavor ban, but since then federal health officials recently announced a breakthrough in identifying the culprit.
Health officials reported that vitamin E acetate was found in vaping devices used by those who got sick. Most of them also used black market products containing THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana.