Vaping takes a hit

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Vaping takes a hit


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Last week, officials signed legislation into law strengthening penalties on tobacco retailers who are charged with unlawfully selling nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, to people under 21 years old. Retailers in violation of the law, according to officials, will now be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for subsequent violations. 

“After years of a steady decline in nicotine addiction, the introduction of vaporizers that are targeted to children has reversed this trend and is back on the rise,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wrote in a statement. “By increasing penalties, we are sending a clear message that we will not tolerate anyone who sells these harmful products to our children and they will be held fully accountable.” 

Officials pointed to a number of recent reports chronicling a dramatic increase in e-cigarette use among teenagers, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found e-cigarette use among high school students jumped 900 percent between 2011 and 2015. Officials say these devices are now more popular among teenagers than traditional cigarettes, largely due to the fruity flavors that many argue make them appealing to young people. 

In 2014, the CDC also found that 73 percent of high school students and 56 percent of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time. In addition, county officials referred to an advisory on e-cigarettes issued last week by the U.S. Surgeon General that states current e-cigarette use among high school students increased 78 percent during the past year. 

Dr. James Tomarken, commissioner of Suffolk County Department of Health Services, believes the recently signed legislation is vital in preventing children from accessing and becoming addicted to e-cigarettes. 

The Suffolk County Police Department, according to officials, employs numerous methods, including undercover operations at individual vaporizer shops, looking to ensure tobacco and e-cigarette vendors comply with the Suffolk County Health Code for sale of nicotine products. Earlier this year, the SCPD announced the results of an investigation into store operators selling to minors. Arrests occurred at 21percent of the establishments visited. More than 280 compliance checks have been conducted at vape shops throughout Suffolk County to date. 

Mike Shannon, owner of BlackWaterVapor, located on Main Street in Sayville, supports harsher fines selling tobacco products to minors. “We want nothing to do with those people,” he said, referring to those who violate the law of sale. 

Shannon did, however, take issue with a recent piece of legislation that would ban the sale of flavored e-liquids in Suffolk County. A handful of flavors, including tobacco, menthol and mint, would be exempt from the proposed ban. 

But nobody wants those flavors, Shannon said, adding that the nonexempt flavors make up well over 90 percent of his store’s e-liquid sales. “Every single vape shop  [in Suffolk County] will close,” he said, should the ban be approved. 

The proposal is currently before the Legislature’s Health Committee, which, according to reports, tabled the measure after meeting earlier this month. 

Shannon, who opened his shop three years ago this month, feels the vaping industry is often stigmatized, particularly in the media. Shannon said he and others in the industry don’t want children using the product. But, should more and more vape shops close, he said, minors will just find a way to purchase the product online. Shannon, along with many other vaping advocates, said that e-cigarettes are often used to help wean smokers who are trying to quit traditional tobacco. For that, he said, people prefer a variety of flavors. 

The owner of a Main Street Islip cigar shop, who preferred to remain anonymous, remarked regarding the recent legislation, “it’s not good,” noting that he recently tried to get approval for the sale of e-cigarettes but was unable to do so. 

John Hopkins Medicine found that vaping, while still bad for your health, is less harmful than traditional smoking because it doesn’t contain the same amount of toxins. E-cigarettes, however, still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can cause high blood pressure and increases the risk of heart attack. There are also many unknown health factors regarding e-cigarettes such as how the chemicals used in the e-liquids could affect one’s physical health in the long term. 

John Hopkins also points out the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device, referring to a study that found most people who intended to use the product to kick their nicotine habit ended up using both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco. 

Last month, New York State toyed with the idea of becoming the first state in the country to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The proposed ban, which could have gone into effect as early as next year, was filed by the state’s Department of Health. The proposal, however, was withdrawn a few days later by the agency. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has acted critically of the vaping industry in recent years. He signed legislation last year, which barred using e-cigarettes in bars, restaurants and the workplace as part of the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act. In 2016, New York State also banned the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 years old. 

The proposed ban on the majority of e-liquids in Suffolk County will be discussed once again during the Legislature’s February meeting. A spokesperson for Bellone said he is in favor of the legislation.