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 contribute 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.
“I totally support banning all the fruity flavors, because they’re 100 percent geared toward children and young adults — impressionable adults,” said Tracy Pulice, a member of the East Meadow School District’s Health and Wellness Committee and the advocacy chair of the Parent Teacher Association Council.
“We have a very strong stance on vaping,” Pulice added of both groups. “People don’t understand that, at first, vaping was supposed to be a step-down tool for smokers. But now the nicotine dose is even higher than cigarettes, and nonsmokers are getting addicted to vaping. It’s not being used for what it was intended for.”
Pulice said she believed that e-cigarettes are being abused now more than ever, because there is no regulation or research required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The East Meadow School District began taking action against the use of e-cigarettes in late 2017. The following April, in the second of two cautionary letters to parents, Superintendent Kenneth Card Jr. wrote, “We are very troubled, as I am sure you are, about the uptick in the use of these devices, and we will be focusing efforts, more than ever, to educate our students about the dangers associated with these devices.” The letter is saved on the school’s website.
The town's decision came before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an emergency executive action to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York state in Albany on Sept. 15. The measure follows legislation that changed the legal purchasing age for tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. It goes into effect on Nov. 13.
Cuomo directed state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to hold an emergency meeting with the Public Health and Health Planning Council on Tuesday to vote on adopting an emergency regulation to ban flavored e-cigarettes — with the exclusion of tobacco and menthol flavors.
The ban will go into effect immediately, giving retailers two weeks — until Oct. 4 — to remove the products from their shelves.
According to a representative of Cuomo’s office, the governor will formally present a law to permanently ban the products by January 2020. “New York is confronting this crisis head-on,” Cuomo said. “Today we are taking another nation-leading step to combat a public health emergency.”
The State Police and the Department of Health will also partner to ramp up enforcement against retailers who sell to minors. The effort is expected to include undercover investigations across the state. According to Cuomo, any retailers that have sold tobacco or vape products to teenagers will face criminal and civil penalties.
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 and Legislator Thomas McKevitt, a Republican from East Meadow.
Town officials said that the proposed law came in response to multiple reports of lung and respiratory diseases across the U.S. To date, five people have died of health problems associated with vaping, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“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 it had been notified about more than 450 cases of lung illnesses potentially associated with the use of e-cigarettes. Town officials also noted that the regulation of vaping devices by the FDA will 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,” David Neubert, the Town of Hempstead’s medical director, 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 added. The U.S. surgeon general “reports that the rate of high school students who vaped increased 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, and among [all teenagers] 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 the Town Board 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.”
Andrew Garcia contributed to this story.