As a New York State ban on flavored e-cigarettes goes into effect Oct. 4, community members and officials on Long Island are hopeful that this will be a good first step in curbing youth smoking.
The ban comes in the wake of several deaths experts have linked to e-cigarettes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 450 cases of lung illness nationwide have been associated with e-cigarette products containing nicotine or THC. A number of those cases have occurred on Long Island.
Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he believes the ban is a great first step in limiting access of addictive products to young people.
“I think [the ban] is wonderful news,” he said. “We have seen a disturbing trend, we know this stuff is not good for you.”
Spencer cautioned that they have to be prepared for the unintended consequences of such a ban, particularly he said he wants to make sure that there are support systems and resources available to addicted individuals who may seek help.
“I want to make sure there are plans for parents who may have a child who is addicted [to e-cigarettes],” he said. “I will be working with the health department on a plan to deal with this.”
Despite the ban, Spencer believes there’s more to do to curb e-cigarette use and vaping, pointing to the ubiquitous e-cigarette product Juul as another concern.
“One Juul pod is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes,” he said. “You have kids smoking two or three of these pods.”
The legislator also mentioned that there are a number of loopholes on the state and federal level that he feels still need to be addressed.
There has been an increase in use of e-cigarettes in middle and high school students in recent years. Port Jefferson School District in particular is hosting a vape seminar at its next school board meeting Oct. 15. District officials are hopeful that the ban prevents further teens from thinking of vaping.
“Any step in the right direction is a good step,” said Paul Casciano, superintendent of the Port Jefferson School District. “Unfortunately, people, including teens, were duped into believing that vaping was a safe alternative to smoking. There is still much more to be done including discussions about peer pressure and the fear of not fitting into a group.”
Casciano said the district has provided information and held numerous presentations on vaping for students and parents. Last December, the district took part in a county pilot program called Vape Out where high school students watched a presentation on the health hazards of vaping and were given advice on how to refuse a hit. They then shared the lessons they learned with other classmates and students in the middle school.
“No singular program or curriculum is going to eliminate vaping among teens however constant and consistent messages from many voices may begin to stem the tide.” Casciano said.
“Any step in the right direction is a good step.”
— Paul Casciano
Vape shop and small business owners have long been opposed to legislation on the sale of e-cigarettes. Back in December 2018, at a public hearing to discuss legislation that would have banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in Suffolk County, owners said the issue isn’t the flavors but rather an issue of access and enforcement of the sale of tobacco products to individuals over the age of 21.
Alex Patel, owner of the Rocky Point Smoke and Vape Shop, is concerned about the looming ban on flavored e-cigarettes as it is a popular item purchased at vape shops.
“Of course, it is going to affect our business,” he said. “We could close down.”
Dr. Rachel Boykan, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stony Brook Medicine, said while she is supportive of the new ban, she thought it would be better if it included menthol.
“We know that youth are attracted to these products because of the flavors; this should decrease their appeal,” she said.
In addition, Boykan mentioned some ideas to further curb youth smoking.
“We need to regulate advertising, which teens respond strongly to and which is ubiquitous and unregulated, compared with advertising of cigarettes, which is restricted,” she said. “We need to decrease availability by including e-cigarettes in Tobacco 21 legislation … include e-cigs in the same indoor air laws as combusted tobacco.”
Boykan said she and her colleagues have dealt with many children who vape and they try to educate them on the harm associated with it.
“We try to educate them about the risks of the flavorings and heavy metals such as copper, in the aerosol, and the recent severe lung illnesses and deaths — which we don’t yet understand,” she said.
The professor provided some advice to parents if they think their child may be vaping.
“They may smell a fruity smell, they may notice signs of nicotine addiction such as agitation, anxiety, or if they are using marijuana as well,” she said. “The best approach is to establish trust, ask without judgment and be supportive if a child admits to having a nicotine addiction — and take them to their pediatrician for help.”