Since the introduction of flavored vape or e-cigarette products, the use of the products by minors in the United States has reached epidemic levels.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration condemned the products and issued a policy in 2020 prioritizing the enforcement against the unauthorized use of flavored nicotine products that appeal to children.
In May 2020, the state’s health department announced the implementation of a law prohibiting the sale of flavored nicotine products. According to data obtained by the state’s Youth Tobacco Survey, high school youth use of e-cigarettes increased from 10.5 percent to 27.4 percent.
Last week, Elmont Parent Teacher Association representative Reva Whitehead, Gotham Avenue School Parent Teacher Association vice president Dale Davis, Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, County Legislator Carrié Solages and New York Association of Convenience Stores president Kent Sopris gathered in Elmont to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature to crack down on the sale of illegal flavored vape products in the state.
“We need to make sure that the bad actors are held accountable,” Michaelle Solages said. “They cannot be allowed to operate. They need to be shut down.”
They are interested in seeing a government-led, industry-supported, coordinated effort to make a different in the proliferation of illegal flavored vape products.
“New York State has a flavored vape problem, and yet, for the last (several) years, they’ve been illegal to sell,” Sopris said. “Despite being illegal to sell, kids are getting their hands on these vapes that are being created to look like pens and USBs and highlighters and other school supplies, so that parents and teachers don’t know that they’re vapes.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey on Nov. 3, reporting 2.8 million middle and high school students reported current use of a tobacco product equaling 10 percent of that demographic in the United States.
The majority of students who used a tobacco product said they used e-cigarettes.
“Our schools, they have been confiscating these vapor products when they can,” Whitehead said.
She said that an issue educators and parents face is the deceptive looks of the vapes.
“I think we all stand in solidarity for healthy community, and ensuring that our young people do not have access to these vape products,” Michaelle Solages said.
According to the CDC survey data, 89.4 percent of students who reported using e-cigarette products used flavored products. “These vapes, they come with names like rainbow candy, blue cotton candy, blue raspberry, gummy bear and magic grape,” Sopris said. “You can’t tell me that these companies and these illicit retailers aren’t targeting kids with these products.”
Sopris emphasized however, the problem is not all convenience stores and smoke shops. Many stores take the identification laws and product legality laws “very seriously.”
In February, Hochul issued a proposal to expand upon the current ban. This expansion, if passed by the state legislature, would end the sale of all flavored tobacco products.
The community members, local elected officials and Sopris want Hochul to include language in her upcoming budget and authorize the Department of Tax and Finance to “clean up” the stores breaking the law.
“We need the whole of government to act and to work in concert with private industries to ensure that this happens,” Michaelle Solages said. “Because we cannot let young people face the consequences of consuming these products.”
She said she has seen social media posts from local youth where they have fallen ill from vaping. The CDC lists that vaping can be harmful to the development of the adolescent brain and some ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol could be harmful to the lungs in the long term.
“They think it’s cool, they think it’s fun, but it’s not,” Michaelle Solages said. “It has serious consequences and serious health effects that go in the long term.”