Starting next month, residents of Nassau County will not be able to purchase most e-cigarette and liquid nicotine products. The Nassau County Legislature passed a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products last week in a vote of 18-0, limiting the sale to only flavorless tobacco, mint or menthol-flavored products under the new law. The vote came after legislators heard from a number of pediatricians, educators and children citing the dangers posed by vaping.
Supporters of the ban believe flavored nicotine products make it easier for kids to become addicted to vaping, a point that the Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth has been vocal about.
“I’m very pleased about this,” said Ruthanne McCormack, project coordinator of the Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth. “For the past year, we have been educating our legislators on the dangers of vaping and how our youth are addicted to nicotine.”
Pediatrician Dr. Robert Lee spoke to the legislature prior to the vote, urging members to support the ban to protect children.
“E-cigarette use poses a significant and avoidable health risk to young people,” Lee said. “More and more of my patients are trying e-cigarettes and vape products through flavoring. Flavors like bubble gum, ice cream sundae and cotton candy are clearly designed by the tobacco industry to appeal to children. Two-thirds of teens who vape report using fruit flavors and 64 percent report using mint or menthol flavors. Teens who vape are more likely to develop a lifetime nicotine addiction and use traditional cigarettes.”
He said he has patients who are addicted to these products, which according to McCormack, comes with another concern: none of the products available to combat nicotine addiction, such as gum, have been approved for youth consumption.
McCormack said banning the sweet flavors is a huge step forward, though there’s still a good chance some underage users will switch to the mint or tobacco flavors. The most important thing the coalition can do is to continue educating parents and children on the health risks posed by vaping.
“We’re seeing more lung injuries nationwide and there have been 47 deaths in total,” she said, citing the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The numbers increase every week.”
The coalition holds presentations, issues public service announcements and has created billboards to get the message out. Members also work with medical professionals and have provided materials at doctor’s offices so parents know what to look for, from the actual vaping device to the symptoms of addiction.
According to Dr. Eve Krief, the legislative advocacy chair for the American Academy of Pediatrics Chapter Two, the rate of vaping of has doubled among teens since 2017. Furthermore, she said, while there are stories of people using these products to quit smoking, there’s no hard science to back up the claims.
“There have been no FDA studies to prove that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool,” Krief said. “If that were the case, prescription products would be available for adults.”
Opponents of the ban, however, argue that the products do help adults stop smoking.
Adam Kielczewski, owner and operator of Kie Industries, a manufacturing facility of vaping products based in Farmingdale, said he has traveled around the world and spoken to thousands of people who have told him the flavors helped them quit smoking cigarettes.
“Being in the vaporing industry has opened my eyes to the fact that former cigarette smokers are ashamed that they once consumed a product that they know would kill them,” he said. “Flavors saved these people.”
He said that the “bad actors” who sell products to youth should be accountable, but a ban on the sale of products will ultimately harm adults already addicted to cigarettes who want to quit. He also said that if the products are on the black market, it will make them more enticing for young people and will not make the problem go away.
Leg. Howard Kopel, who ultimately voted in support of the ban, also expressed concerns about the potential of creating a black market and noting that people still tend to get things they want, even if they are illegal.
“It’s not such a simple, obvious thing to me,” Kopel said. “We’ve heard a lot of evidence – a lot of it is anecdotal, but we have to look at where the anecdotes are coming from.”
Hearing stories from doctors and educators, including Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth members, is what persuaded him. “I think since these people are working with kids and seeing the results of what’s going on,” Kopel said, “I have to go with them.”
And the coalition works hard to not only get the message across, but to make sure retailers are compliant with the law. McCormack said she and volunteers from the coalition, along with members of the Rockville Centre Police Department, will visit every store in the area—including Oceanside, Lynbrook, Baldwin and Malverne, in addition to Rockville Centre — to alert them of the law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Then, they plan to follow up and make sure the stores are compliant.
Violators of the law will be punishable by a civil penalty of a minimum of $500 to $1,000 for a first violation and a minimum of $1,000 to $2,000 for each subsequent violation.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she plans to sign the bill into law once it reaches her desk.
“There has been an alarming rise in e-cigarette use among our young people,” said Curran, “and it is undeniable that Big Tobacco’s targeting of youth with flavors like bubblegum, mango, or cotton candy has driven that rise. We cannot allow a whole new generation to get hooked on these toxic products.”
She added, “Nassau County is committed to protecting our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and the many health risks these products bring.”