Fight over proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes in Suffolk

Fight over proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes in Suffolk

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer, center, stands with doctors, school officials and parents rallying in support of banning flavored e-cigarettes Dec. 13. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A legislative proposition to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping liquids in Suffolk County created a frenzy, packing the county Legislature last week to argue the pros and cons.

Suffolk Legislator Dr. William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) drafted legislation that would ban the sale of all flavored vapes and e-liquids, with the exception of menthol and mint, before the Health Committee Dec. 13 for a public hearing. His proposal drew more than 75 speakers including health officials, small business owners and students.

“This is a public health emergency,” Spencer said. “We are seeing an astonishing increase in vamping among those ages 12 to 17, and to wait for the FDA or state to take action is not acceptable at the expense of more children becoming addicted.”

This is a public health emergency.” 

— William “Doc” Spencer

The legislator said studies indicate the number of children vaping in the last year has tripled, and that up to 80 percent cite flavor as the main reason. Spencer said candy and fruity flavors such as cotton candy or Cinnamon Toast Crunch paired with flashy advertising on social media is enticing young people.

“The kids don’t even have a chance,” he said.

The proposed legislation has gained momentum with letters of support from Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, Suffolk County High School Principals Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to Spencer.

“Studies show children try vaping and e-cigs because of the flavors and kids who use these products get addicted and are more likely to move on to combustible cigarettes, with all the health detriments we know are caused by smoking,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, a member and legislative advocate with New York Chapter 2 of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of flavoring in cigarettes. Spencer said it’s his belief the FDA will take this step with e-cigarettes next.

Ibrahim Bal, co-owner of Cloud Vapor and Smoke vape shop in Smithtown, speaks Dec. 13. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A number of small business owners spoke out against the proposed legislation stating the issues of children ages 12 to 17 vaping isn’t the flavors, but rather an issue of access and enforcement of Suffolk County’s limitation on sale of tobacco product to those over the age of 21.

“Fake IDs are the biggest bane of my existence,” said Ibrahim Bal, co-owner of Cloud Vapor and Smoke vape shop in Smithtown. “I’ve come to a point where I’ve had to turn away people who have actual IDs from [New] Jersey.”

Bal encouraged members of the Health Committee to strongly consider steeper penalties for businesses that sell e-cigarettes and vapes to those who are underage. The county’s current law states a first offense is punishable by a minimum fine of $300, with a fee of $500 to $1,500 for each subsequent infraction.

“We’re all on the same page, we don’t’ want kids vaping,” Bal said.

His brother and business partner, Semih, said the children will still be able to purchase e-cigarettes, like the popular JUUL online, and said the issue of access is a matter of responsible parenting.

“Parents need to stop buying it for their kids,” he said, citing it as a frequent occurrence.

I’m in America, you can’t tell me I can’t have a flavor.”

— Ron Diamond

His point was strongly seconded by Ron Diamond, owner of Ronjo’s Magic & Costumes in Port Jefferson Station, who said he has recently made the move into selling vape and wellness products in the last nine months. Diamond said his clientele are mature adults attracted to the diverse flavor choices available for use in larger vapor units, not the e-cigarette cartridges favored by teens.

“We have a bigger problem in America, and that’s flavored cereals,” he said. “We have a bigger problem because all the children are obese. If you are going to take away flavor from a vapor, let’s take the flavor away from luring in children to be obese with cereal and sugary, flavors in cereal.”

Diamond said he would support stricter regulation including mandating ID card scanners be installed in each store, locking down sale to vape-specific shops rather than convenience stores, and strict enforcement of identification to prevent underage sale.

“I’m in America, you can’t tell me I can’t have a flavor,” Diamond said.

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