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Nicotine

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By Donna Deedy

Tobacco continues to hold a top spot as the number one cause of preventable death throughout the world, according to Suffolk County. And county lawmakers have now voted 16-2 to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. 

“Tobacco harms every organ in the body and is the only legal product sold in America that when used as directed, kills up to half of its long-term users,” said Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who co-sponsored the bill.  

The bill’s passage emphasizes that pharmacies are health-focused businesses and aligns with the county’s other efforts to decrease tobacco use. It recently raised the age to purchase tobacco products to age 21, for example, and prohibits smoking in county parks, beaches and Suffolk County Community College.

“This law decreases the bombardment of colorful tobacco displays meant to entice children and it reduces the influence on adults trying to break the addiction to nicotine,” said Lori Benincasa, retired director for health education for Suffolk County.

The new law applies to all tobacco products, including cigarettes, loose tobacco, cigars, powdered tobacco, shisha, herbal cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, electronic liquids, rolling paper and smoking paraphernalia. Consumers will still be allowed to purchase FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies in pharmacies such as skin patches, nicotine gum and lozenges. 

The ban will take effect 180 days after its filing with the Secretary of State’s office, likely before the end of 2019. 

Students at Earl L. Vandermuelen High School in Port Jefferson discuss the health effects of vaping. Photo from PJSD

By David Luces

With the rising use of e-cigarettes in schools, Suffolk County is looking to find ways to put the liquid genie back in its bottle.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation Dec. 20 to increase the fine for the sale of all tobacco products, including vaping products, to those under 21 years old. 

“The popularity of electronic cigarettes has exploded into mainstream culture to the point where school officials in Suffolk County have asked our public health officials for clarity and assistance in dealing with record numbers of students who are vaping on school grounds,” Bellone said in a press release.  

“Vaping has become a concern in many high schools throughout Suffolk County,”

— Paul Casciano

Along with the new legislation, in January Suffolk County officials have continued to pilot a new vaping prevention program called Vape Out. The program is currently being run in North Babylon, Hampton Bays, Port Jefferson and Bayport-Blue Point school districts. Each school district involved has the option of picking one or all three of the approaches as a way of customizing the program. 

The anti-vaping program, consists of three elements: peer-to-peer education, alternatives to suspension and  community education, according to county officials. 

Paul Casciano, the superintendent of the Port Jefferson School District, said the Suffolk County Department of Health approached them in piloting the Teens-Teaching-Teens peer education element due in part to the success of a previous peer leadership program that ran in the high school. 

Dozens of Earl. L Vandermeulen High School students took part in a full day of training Dec. 6 2018 about the health effects of vaping and nicotine. The students watched a presentation on the health hazards of vaping and were given advice on how to refuse a hit. From there, district officials said they shared the lessons they learned with other students in both the high school and Port Jefferson Middle School.

Despite being in the early stages of the program, Casciano said the response to the training from peer leaders has been positive. 

According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five high school students use e-cigarettes. One in 20 middle school students use e-cigarettes as well. 

The popularity of e-cigarettes has risen in recent years, a CDC National Youth Tobacco Survey found that e-cigarette use among high school students increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018. 

“Vaping has become a concern in many high schools throughout Suffolk County,” the superintendent said. “Knowing the potential negative effects of vaping and developing strategies to resist pressure from others to vape is important for parents, staff, and especially students to learn.”

According to a report from BBC News, the global vape product market was valued as over $22.6 billion in 2016. 

“This is not just a phase or fad,” John Martin, supervising public health educator, Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said. “When I go to these presentations, I ask middle schoolers if anyone was curious enough to smoke a cigarette — nobody raised their hand. When I asked if anyone would think about trying a mango-flavored e-cigarette, some hands came up.” 

“This is not just a phase or fad.”

— John Martin

Martin said they were winning the game in curbing cigarette use in youth but he acknowledged vaping and products like JUUL, one of the more popular brands of e-cigarettes and vape products, have led to new challenges. 

“We’ve had a long history with helping people with nicotine addiction,” said Nancy
Hemendinger, the director of Office of Health Education, Suffolk County Department of Health Services. “We need to work together to combat this issue.”

Other parts of the Vape Out programming include the alternative-to-suspension element which encourages school administrators to require students who have been reprimanded for vaping to attend a customized education intervention in lieu of school suspension. The community education element would connect parent forums with parent-teacher organizations, youth bureaus and agencies to employ a variety of educational tools .

“We need to get adults and parents to recognize these items as smoking devices,” Hemendinger said. “Also, we need to understand that these kids affected have a addiction and we need to help them — It is our job to spot these trends.”

This post was amended to correct the date of the Port Jefferson training day.

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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].

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signs the county’s tobacco age law. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Health Commissioner James Tomarken encouraged residents who use tobacco to break their addiction through the “Learn to Be Tobacco Free” program.

“We are promoting good health to all residents in Suffolk County,” Bellone said. “For those who are addicted to tobacco or nicotine products, we urge them to get the support they need to prevent illnesses that are caused by tobacco.”

Smithtown’s session was scheduled at Smithtown Public Library, 1 North Country Road on Mondays from 6 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 21, 28, Oct. 5, 19, 26 and Nov. 2.

The classes are free to Suffolk County residents, though there is a nominal fee for medication for medically eligible participants.

“Breaking an addiction to nicotine can be very difficult,” Tomarken said. “Studies have shown that smokers who try to quit smoking using a combination of behavioral support and medicine are three times more likely to be successful than those who try to stop smoking without support.”

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Danielle and Nicole Mogyorosi are using their Smithtown roots to bring their new business into the mainstream. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The cirkusz is coming to town.

Smithtown sisters Danielle and Nicole Mogyorosi just launched a new line of vapor juice flavors, named Cirkusz Grrl, that reflect their family background with the circus. Frank Mogyorosi, their father, moved from Hungary to America with the Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1950s.

Nicole Mogyorosi has friends in the vapor industry, and they invited the sisters to come and test different flavors in their lab.

“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Danielle Mogyorosi said. “We realized we should make a line to pay homage to our background.”

Nicole, born in 1981, and Danielle, born in 1983, traveled the United States with their family in the circus until they were 7 years old. The family then moved to Smithtown.

“We grew up around candy apples and carnie cones,” Nicole Mogyorosi said. “I used to eat funnel cakes for breakfast, so we went into this idea with flavors in mind. We wanted to perfect them into exactly what we remembered.”

Danielle and Nicole Mogyorosi are using their Smithtown roots to bring their new business into the mainstream. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Danielle and Nicole Mogyorosi are using their Smithtown roots to bring their new business into the mainstream. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The sisters said for customers it’s very popular because it’s a throwback, and brings people back to that time of being a kid and enjoying circus.

Currently Cirkusz Grrl has five flavors: carousel cotton candy, jumbo popcorn, big top candy apple, sideshow dough and carnie cone cherry ice.

Both sisters now reside in Maryland, where Cirkusz Grrl was born. They stumbled upon vaping after many failed attempts to quit smoking. They tried nicotine patches and gum, hypnotism and going cold turkey but nothing worked.

After trying vaporizers, they have both been cigarette-free for months.

“It’s gotten me there,” Nicole Mogyorosi said. “It helps to still have the hand to mouth, that oral fixation.” Danielle added that it was the best alternative for her, and she already feels the difference.

Vaping describes the act when using an electronic cigarette, which is a battery-powered vaporizer that simulates the feel of smoking, but with no tobacco in it. The nicotine in it is in liquid form, and can be adjusted.

“The ultimate goal is to get to zero amount of nicotine — it’s a way of weaning down,” Nicole Mogyorosi said.

The social aspect of vaping is another reason why they were interested in the business.

“Vaping is its own community — it’s fun and I’ve really enjoyed it,” Danielle Mogyorosi said.

There are many vaping lounges where customers can sample different flavors while socializing.

Xhale Custom Vapors, of 335 Smithtown Blvd. in Ronkonkoma is having a grand reopening this month, and is hosting Cirkusz Grrl’s first in-store launch party on Aug. 29 at 2 p.m.

“Vaping is becoming a seriously large subculture,” Ray Swartz, general manager for Xhale’s two Long Island locations said in a statement. “In welcoming such an awesome line as Cirkusz Grrl as our first major event guests, we are hoping to set a precedent for more events, new flavors and products.”

Nicole Mogyorosi has been a graphic designer for the past 10 years, and Danielle has worked in hospitality. They feel that together they bring all the skills necessary to run a successful company.

“It’s been amazing so far. We know each other’s work ethic, and it’s fun,” the sisters said together.

Bellone signs Anker's legislation into law

Sarah Anker introduced the legislation to require the warning signs last year. File photo by Erika Karp
Suffolk County retailers who sell liquid nicotine will now have to display a sign warning customers of the possible dangers associated with the product.

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation into law, which officials say is the first of its kind in the nation. The bill was sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and seeks to educate consumers about liquid nicotine — an ultra-concentrated nicotine substance used in e-cigarettes. The product could be poisonous if swallowed, inhaled or if it comes in contact with skin. Anker pitched the legislation in December following the death of a Fort Plain, N.Y., one-year-old who ingested the product.

“This potent and possibly toxic product requires regulation, and without leadership from the federal Food and Drug Administration, Suffolk County must move forward to protect our residents with the required warning sign,” Anker said in a press release.

Calls to poison control centers regarding liquid nicotine poisoning have increased throughout the last few years, according to the press release. In 2012, there were fewer than 100 cases of nonlethal liquid nicotine poisoning; in 2013, the number rose to 1,300; and in 2014, the number jumped to 4,000.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services will enforce the law and provide the downloadable warning signs. The law will take effect 90 days from filling with the Office of the Secretary of State.

Businesses in violation of the law could receive an up to $250 fine for a first offense. Fines increase to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a violation thereafter.

Last year, the county prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to anyone younger than 21 years old.