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electronic cigarettes

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Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge in Smithtown is a short distance away from Paul T. Given County Park. Photo from Google Maps

By Kyle Barr

As the popularity of vaping products grows, Smithtown officials are considering ways to keep the products out of children’s hands.

Smithtown Town Board has plans to consider changing town zoning laws to restrict any store whose primary purpose is the sale of any e-liquid, vape product or indoor smoking from opening up within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or public parks in an effort to dissuade teens from using these types of products.

“For this age group, it’s very unhealthy and easily accessible,” said Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), who helped sponsor the ordinance. “They kind of market it like candy, and they name the different flavors after candy names. So It’s very appealing to kids.”

If approved, the restriction would not be retroactive, so it won’t  affect any current  businesses near schools, parks or churches. Inzerillo said she hopes that the zoning change will effectively dissuade these shops from opening near commercial districts.

“Lucky for Smithtown, most of our parks, churches and schools all are close to our main streets,” the councilwoman said.

The town is still waiting on an environmental impact study to be completed by the state on the effect of the proposed ordinance. After that, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town attorney may need to look at any adjustments, but he believes the ordinance will go through.

“I think it’s going to pass, yes,” Wehrheim said. “I believe having [vape and hookah shops] in a close proximity to church or a school is problematic.”

We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use.”

— Matthew Neebe

Matthew Neebe, director at nonprofit Horizons Counseling and Education Center, said that while there have been limited long-term studies on whether or not vape products have negative health effects, he believes these products can harm children’s development.

“We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use,” Neebe said. “I think this step a good place to start. Kids tend to participate in things that are convenient for them.”

Amar Patel, owner of Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge near Paul T. Given County Park in Smithtown, has had his own troubles with the town. His business is temporarily closed while they renovate the building to bring it into compliance with Smithtown fire codes, but he plans to reopen soon. Patel said that vape and hookah get an unfair reputation from the rest of the community.

“I don’t think [the Town of Smithtown] supports any tobacco product, smoking or anything” Patel said. “I mean my personal opinion, I would say when it comes to hookah lounges it’s more of a hang out, where you go after dinner. Almost like you are going to a cigar lounge, then go about your day.”

Patel said he believes that cigarette use should be a bigger concern than hookah lounges or vaping, stressing that he does not believe hookah use is addictive unlike
smoking cigarettes
.

The zoning ordinance is expected to be voted on at the April 26 town board meeting.

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Vapes, or electronic cigarettes, are becoming more and more popular among young people, despite a lack of research about the health effects. Photo by John Petroski

By Sabrina Petroski

The “vape life” has found its way into the Port Jefferson School District, making it one of many being forced to address the new trend.

On Jan. 10, Earl L. Vandermeulen High School hosted a community forum about the dangers associated with the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping among young people. The forum, led by the Senior Drug Abuse Educator with the Suffolk County Department of Health, Stephanie Sloan, gave parents and teachers a wealth of information on the issue.

The use of e-cigarettes rose exponentially between 2011 and 2015 across the United States within both middle and high schools, according to Sloan, who cited statistics from a 2016 report on the matter by the office of the U.S. Surgeon General. Sloan said e-cigarette use increased from less than 2 percent in high schools to 15 percent, and less than 1 percent in middle schools to 5 percent over that time period. According to Sloan, more young people are using the various devices because they are curious, there are fun flavors, and there is no perception of risk.

“They are not harmless and we have to work together to encourage healthier decisions among adults and youth,” Sloan said.

Though there isn’t a lot of conclusive research on e-cigarettes yet, what we do know is the liquid, known as e-juice, is made of a combination of nicotine and propylene glycol, with traces of diacetyl, acetoin, ultrafine particles of metal, and benzene. Sloan pointed out, there is no water in the vapor being inhaled.

The devices come in different shapes and sizes; some as small as an actual cigarette, while others are the size of a cellphone. The smallest, and most popular among young adults is the size and shape of a USB drive, and it leaves no odor, making it easy to hide on school grounds.

“They are not harmless and we have to work together to encourage healthier decisions among adults and youth.”

— Stephanie Sloan

“The problem is, it is very difficult to detect,” said Christine Austen, the high school principal. “Compared to cigarettes there’s no scent, there’s no smoke, and there’s no evidence unless other students report it.”

The trend started in Port Jeff last school year but has become much more frequent since, according to leadership in the district. In an effort to stop students from picking up the habit, the school district has added a section about the dangers of e-cigarettes into the curriculum of every health class.

“We want the kids to know that there are varying amounts of nicotine and other synthetics in these vapes,” said Danielle Turner, the Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics. “Prevention is most important because of what we still don’t know.”

Though there are age restrictions on buying e-cigarettes and vapes, the underage students are still finding ways to obtain them. According to Robert Neidig, Port Jefferson Middle School principal, students say they can access them online with gift cards or through older siblings and friends.

E-cigarettes have recently been added to the Clean Indoor Air Act, making it illegal for them to be used anywhere tobacco products are banned, including on school grounds. Sloan urged administrators to treat the devices the same as cigarettes when punishment is being decided.

According to Superintendent Paul Casciano, punishments for students caught with e-cigarettes on school property are handled on a case by case basis. A parent of both a middle school and a high school student said during the forum he believes there should be a blanket punishment.

“Just a phone call home isn’t enough,” he said. “All of the students should be treated the same in spite of other infractions. The first offense should be a warning, and the second should be a blanket punishment.”

The Port Jeff school district received a grant which will allow it to install vapor detectors in the bathrooms of the school, and going forward the district plan is for the faculty and staff to continue their efforts to keep the community aware and educated.

If you know of or suspect any stores that are selling e-cigarettes or accompanying items to people under the age of 21, you can contact the Department of Health Services Investigation Team by calling 631-853-3162. For more information on the dangers associated with e-cigarettes contact Stephanie Sloan by calling 631-853-8554, or emailing [email protected]