NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - With the number of New Yorkers suffering from vaping-related lung diseases soaring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a health emergency and is taking aggressive action to cope with a vaping epidemic across the nation and across the state.
Web Extra: Gov. Andrew Cuomo Announces Action On Vaping
So far, there have been five deaths reported and 450 possible cases of lung illness across 33 states, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is a frightening public health phenomenon," Cuomo said, mincing no words as he rolled out a multi-pronged program for dealing with what he called two emerging public health crises: Soaring cases of vaping-related lung disease across New York and the skyrocketing number of young people and developing nicotine addictions.
There are now 41 cases of vaping-related lung diseases across New York.
Nearly 40% of 12th graders and 27% of all high school students in New York now use e-cigarettes. That's 160% higher than in 2014.
"Our advice, our guidance is quite simple: Don't do it," Cuomo said.
The governor ordered the State Health Department to issue emergency regulations requiring all vape and smoke shops to post warning signs stating "Vaping can expose you to to toxic chemicals and kill you."
The governor also ordered an investigation into companies marketing and selling thickening agents used in black market vaping products.
"To find out what is in it," he said.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said tests on the products used by some of those sickened by vaping found high levels of vitamin E acetate, which, when inhaled, "can damage those lungs."
Tests in New York found vitamin E acetate is used as filler, making up as much as 50% of the e-cigarette. Officials issued subpoenas to three black market companies in Amherst, Mass., Santa Monica, Calif. and Ypsilanti, Mich.
"There may be other things that are fillers," Zucker said. "There may be other substances."
Officials admit there maybe some confusion because many people take vitamin E as a supplement and don't think anything of it. But when vitamin E is heated and inhaled, it can do damage.
"You inhale something all the way down to air sacks, and inhale something that's oil or fatty, it damages the lung. You end up with pneumonia and on respiratory support," Zucker said.
Cuomo said he would also introduce legislation banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes which have been particularly attractive to younger consumers.
A spokesperson for Juul Labs, one of the largest vaping companies, insisted the firm is committed to help reverse the trend line in youth use and does not sell flavors like cotton candy and bubble gum.
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