Town of Hempstead to ban sale of flavored e-liquids

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Town of Hempstead officials called for a ban on the sale of flavored e-liquids used in electronic vape devices at a Town Board meeting Sept. 3.

Elected officials and health experts said the flavored liquids target children and are contributing to an epidemic among teens who are inhaling highly addictive nicotine and harmful chemicals. The Town Board scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Sept. 24. If enacted, the local law would take effect Jan. 1, and the town would become one of the first municipalities in the state to prohibit the sale of flavored e-liquids.

“They never should have come to market without being vetted for long-term complications,” Malvernite Gina Gentilella said in a Facebook comment. “Companies like Juul had a marketing strategy targeting children that made the leap to e-cigs a natural pipeline for young people to become addicted to nicotine. I’m 100 percent behind this ban.”

Devices that are odorless and easily disguised, Gentiletta added, make it difficult to help students that are already hooked on nicotine after experimenting with flavored e-liquids.

“We need to think about the packaging and marketing as well,” Malverne resident Anita Marco said in a Facebook post, adding that her daughter, a senior at Malverne High School, did a research project last year in which she compiled statistics on Juul use. After interviewing numerous teens on Long Island, she found that in most cases, they were drawn to the colors of the packaging rather than the flavor.

“I am not one who likes government intervention or restrictions. However, in this case, I feel that the [Food and Drug Administration] cannot confirm what’s in vapes and therefore, cannot properly regulate,” Marco wrote. “At least with cigarettes we know what’s in them and the damage they do so at the moment I support regulation of the Juul.”

Democratic Town Supervisor Laura Gillen joined Republican Council members Erin King Sweeney and Dennis Dunne to announce the local legislation. Gillen noted that the recent spike in teen vaping has threatened to undermine nearly two decades of decline in overall tobacco use.

“America’s largest township is fighting against an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers that threatens the decades-long progress our communities have made in reducing youth addiction to smoking,” Gillen said in a statement. “We believe this legislation will help cut the shocking amount of e-cigarette vaping by young people and help prevent the next generation of children from falling prey to an alarming public health danger.” 

Others who supported the measure included Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein, Legislator Arnold Drucker, First Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Smith and advocates from Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, an organization dedicated to combating what representatives called “the most serious adolescent public health crisis our country has faced in decades.”

Town officials said the proposed law came in response to multiple reports of lung and respiratory diseases across the United States. To date, five people have died from health issues associated with vaping, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

“For months, we have seen countless disturbing reports of young people and teenagers being hospitalized with severe respiratory illnesses due to vaping,” King Sweeney said in a statement. “. . . We must act immediately to protect the health of our kids from the numerous and often unknown dangers associated with these highly addictive products, being used by teens in record numbers.”

The CDC said last Friday that the agency has been notified of more than 450 cases of lung illnesses potentially associated with the use of e-cigarette products. Town officials also noted that the regulation of vaping devices by the FDA would not be complete until 2020.

“Vaping and e-cigarette products are largely unregulated and expose a user to multiple dangerous chemicals that can cause serious harm,” Town Medical Director David Neubert said in a statement. “The long- and short-term health risks are still not fully known, but recent incidents have indicated serious and permanent lung damage may occur. These products pose a significant public health risk, and restricting their availability will save lives by reducing exposure to these harmful chemicals.”

“The fact is that teen vaping has reached an epidemic and is out of control,” Dunne said in a statement. The U.S. surgeon general “reports that the rate of high school students who vaped increased 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, and among overall youths, an over 900 percent increase from 2011 to 2015. These products are being marketed to target and addict kids, and the studies show that the flavors are one of the top draws that bring these teens in.”

Curran thanked Town Board members for pushing back against big tobacco companies. “The surge in e-cigarette use among teens and children is undeniable and alarming,” she said in a statement. “We are committed to protecting our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and the many associated health risks that e-cigarettes bring. We must fight back against the big tobacco companies using aggressive marketing to get a whole new generation hooked on their toxic products.”

PAVE members Dorian Fuhrman and Meredith Burkman offered their support for the measure as a step forward to protect children’s health. “Passing this flavor ban is essential to slowing the skyrocketing youth vaping epidemic, the most serious adolescent health crisis our country has faced in decades,” they said in a statement. “If passed, Hempstead would be one of the first municipalities in New York state to take decisive action against ‘Big Tobacco 2.0.’”

Nakeem Grant contributed to this story.