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County approves ban on most flavored vape products

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The Nassau County Legislature unanimously approved legislation on Nov. 25 to restrict the sale of most flavored vape products countywide. The law’s passage follows a recent uptick in vaping-related illnesses — and in some cases, deaths — across the country, and calls from local, state and federal officials to ban vaping devices and e-liquids altogether.

The legislation does not preclude the sale of flavorless tobacco, mint- or menthol-flavored products, but carries fines for storeowners who continue to sell “fun” flavored products such as bubblegum, mango and cotton candy. Violators will be fined a minimum of $500 for an initial violation, and a minimum of $1,000 for each subsequent violation.

The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, pending Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s signature. She said in a statement that she looked forward to signing the bill into law.

“We cannot allow a whole new generation to get hooked on these toxic products,” she said. “Nassau County is committed to protecting our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and the many health risks these products bring.”

Curran also attributed the “alarming rise in e-cigarette use among ... young people” to Big Tobacco’s offering of fun flavors, which could appear as seemingly harmless to the younger, would-be user.

Legislator Arnold Drucker, a Democrat from Plainview, filed the legislation in May, but said the genesis of the bill began a year ago. He said school administrators in his legislative district expressed that vaping was becoming a “growing epidemic,” with some teachers even witnessing students vaping in class.

The bill, Drucker said, is designed to remove fun-flavored e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine products from the marketplace to “discernibly decrease” vaping among middle and high school students. Flavorless tobacco, mint- and menthol-flavored products will remain for sale “as a viable alternative for adults who wish to use vapes as a cessation method,” he added.

Drucker also said the bill is intended to act as a deterrent for vape retailers, and that any business that continuously violates the law could be shut down by the county’s departments of health and consumer affairs. “When you’re making money off of getting kids hooked on things that are harmful, you need to find something else to sell,” he said.

More than a dozen pediatricians provided Drucker with medical data on vaping, and its effects on users. One of the doctors was Dr. Shetal Shah, president of the Long Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Pediatricians on the ground are confronted with more and more children who are vaping,” Shah said. “One colleague of mine did a middle school program on vaping, and she asked them to raise their hand if they vape or if they know someone who does, and every single hand went up. These are kids that are 12- and 13-years-old.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping among youths increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2019, and this year, one out of every four high schoolers reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. There is also data that suggests “fruit flavors, chocolate flavors and sweet dessert flavors play a crucial role in enticing children to begin vaping and in perpetuating their continued vape use,” Shah said.

“This is the first step towards addressing the youth vaping epidemic in Nassau County,” Shah said. He added that his chapter would continue to monitor rates of youth vaping, specifically to see if young people will begin to migrate to mint- and menthol-flavored products with the county ban in place.