We need stronger enforcement of youth vaping laws


Parents, teachers and school administrators on Long Island all understand the gravity of the youth vaping epidemic. Young people are using vaping devices at alarming rates, exposing themselves to nicotine and numerous other dangerous chemicals that have adverse effects on their health. New York state must respond to this crisis by requiring greater transparency when it comes to the sale of vaping products, holding distributors accountable for illegal sales and rigorously enforcing penalties for bad actors.

According to the state Department of Health, nearly one in five high school students in New York reported vaping nicotine in 2022. There is no debate about the scale of the problem, but state policy is not keeping up with the demand for it. School districts have been left with no choice but to create individualized plans to respond to this problem, with the state failing to tackle the supply side of the issue. Distributors and individual sellers are getting away with selling to minors, and there are currently few enforcement mechanisms in place to hold sellers and their distributors accountable.

This year I have introduced legislation that would require distributors of vaping products to be licensed by the state. Under this bill, there would be reporting requirements for distributors and sellers so the supply chain of vaping devices couldn’t be hidden from state authorities. This creates transparency on where these devices are coming from. Last July alone, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted $18 million worth of illegal vapes that were shipped to the United States from overseas. This represents only a small fraction of total imports, most of which make it past customs enforcement.

With unregulated and unauthorized vaping devices flooding the market, there needs to be more rigorous enforcement of state regulations. My bill would authorize inspections of retailers to ensure compliance with tax and licensing requirements, and empower the state to seize all non-tax-paid devices. Violators would be subject to fines and possible revocation of their license to sell. Another bill in the Assembly would require all products stored on or near the premises of a vape retailer to be subject to inspections. Actions like these would go a long way toward eliminating illegal sales and removing bad actors from the market.

One critical aspect of cracking down on illegal sales of vaping products is cutting off access to them for people younger than 21. Many can buy devices online and bypass all checks that would be required at a retailer, and many are still able to buy devices right at the counter. More must be done to make sure age verification is being done for all sales.

Even if this were fully addressed, the black market for vaping products would still present a major challenge to making meaningful progress in getting these devices out of the hands of young people. In recent months, we have seen the state take more concrete steps to crack down on illegal cannabis retail operations. The same must be done with the vaping industry. It will require a sustained effort on the part of government agencies, with the backing of strong legislation to make a dent in the illegal sales of vaping devices that is occurring every day.

The promise of a smoke-free generation was within our grasp not that long ago, but the illicit vape market has threatened all of our progress on this issue. Vaping devices provide real help to cigarette smokers who are looking to quit, but we should make sure sales are targeted only at this group of consumers. No child should be exposed to vaping devices, and the state government must be an active partner in making sure all distributors and retailers are following the law while cracking down on the black market that thrives on getting young people hooked on nicotine.

Michaelle Solages represents the 22nd Assembly District and chairs the Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus.