With concern growing about lung disease and other disorders caused by e-cigarettes and a surge in the number of children who use them, federal and state governments have urged the tightening of restrictions against vaping. Officials have suggested tripling federal taxes on e-cigarettes and their accessories, as well as banning flavored cartridges.
Sea Cliff’s Alison Camardella, president of the North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse, said that vaping prevention is among the most important actions the organization undertakes. While it is common knowledge that cigarettes pose health risks, hundreds of people, Camardella said, are being hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses, which are not yet fully understood.
“We’re at the tip of the iceberg, as far as I’m concerned, when learning about the risks of vaping,” she said.
What she does know, Camardella said, is that vaping is a growing threat among children and teens. The difficulty of detecting e-cigarette vapor, social media’s perception of vaping as “cool” and a lack of early education to make children aware of its health risks are just a few of the factors that have made it such a significant part of teen culture.
“It’s only natural for kids to want to try the latest things on the market,” Camardella said. “It’s our job as parents and members of the community to educate them as to why they shouldn’t.”
Flavoring e-cigarette cartridges, she said, attracts children. Things that taste like candy attracts kids, she said, not nicotine flavoring.
However, Tammy Mink, owner of Shore Vapes in Glen Cove, said that flavored cartridges have more of a positive impact than a negative one. Her business helps adults quit smoking cigarettes, she said, estimating that about 90 percent of her customers use flavors to do so, because tobacco flavoring only brings cigarettes back to mind. “They don’t want to be reminded of that last cigarette,” Mink said.
She said she understands that officials are trying to improve children’s health, and she supports going after businesses that have sold e-cigarettes to minors. But Mink expressed concern about a growing black market in e-cigarette cartridges that she believes will be significantly worse for people’s health than the commercially made brands. And, she said, many people would go back to smoking cigarettes if flavors were banned, and the nicotine high is ultimately what attract minors to vaping, not flavors.
“These laws are going to hurt more than they’re trying to help,” Mink said.
The Coalition Against Substance Abuse has worked extensively with the North Shore Central School District to increase awareness of the dangers of vaping among both students and parents through programs and presentations. Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said the Board of Education decided over the summer to include vaping in Policy 5440, which restricts alcohol, tobacco and drug use on district campuses. Students who are caught vaping on school grounds will likely be ordered to see school social workers for counseling. The penalties increase for repeat offenders, with suspension a possibility down the line, although that is not Giarrizzo’s first choice.
“Suspension is a tool,” he said, “but I would rather use our mental health structures to find out why kids are using, and then give them a stronger path forward.”
Giarrizzo said that the district is incorporating lessons on vaping into school curriculums, because the time has come to bring the discussion into smaller groups. “The impact of working with a grade level is fine,” he said, “but it doesn’t change behavior in the way that modules with small groups of kids will.”
Nassau County has also begun restricting vaping and e-cigarettes. County Executive Laura Curran launched Operation Clear the Air on Sept. 26 to crack down on counterfeit vaping products. In the following days, there were 15 violations for counterfeit products issued to businesses on the South Shore and in Mineola.
County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, of Glen Cove, said that the Legislature was also considering banning flavored e-cigarette and vaping products that seem to be targeted at teens and young adults. “When you put out a product like bubble-gum flavor,” DeRiggi-Whitton asked, “who do they think they’ll attract?” She added that the county needed to consider banning the smoking of these products in public parks, and keeping advertisements about them away from schools, much like cigarettes are regulated.
Legislator Joshua Lafazan, of Woodbury, agreed. Lafazan said he was particularly concerned about “popcorn lung,” a nickname for bronchiolitis obliterans, which damages the lungs. He said he planned to host an informational seminar on vaping for the North Shore communities on Oct. 15 at Syosset High School.
“I’ve spoken to pediatrician friends of mine who tell me that this addiction is real,” Lafazan said, “and are warning about popcorn lung.”
Dr. Sharon Harris, executive director of Glen Cove’s Substance Abuse Free Environment Inc., said that vaping has become a top priority for the nonprofit organization, which provides alcohol and drug prevention services throughout the city. Harris said that SAFE was working with its partners in the city school district to better inform students about the dangers of vaping and to bolster peer-resistance skills so they can reject vaping and help their friends avoid it as well.
While schools and organizations like SAFE and CASA can help curb vaping among children and teens, Camardella said, effective prevention starts at home. Along with talking about the risks of vaping, parents can engage in role-playing with their children to teach them refusal skills. Most important, she said, parents need to keep communication open with their children so they will be comfortable discussing vaping.