New York State legislators have agreed to meet with tattoo artists after an online petition criticizing new limits on the piercing and body art industry drew support from tens of thousands of people.
"I'm happy they brought the concerns forward -- that's what government is about," said Assemb. Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City), who sponsored the measure imposing the restrictions.
The petition calling for revisions to the law's definition of single-use tattoo ink was launched Tuesday by Saratoga Springs-based tattoo artist Bridget Punsalang.
In four days, it had collected nearly 40,000 signatures of people who want the new law changed, allowing the use of ink poured from large bottles into single-use cups.
On Aug. 14, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the law requiring tattoo artists and body piercers to use sterile, single-use needles and ink, and obtain consent waivers from customers as a means of preventing hepatitis and other blood-borne illnesses and infections.
The law doesn't take effect until December, but its current wording defines single-use ink as coming in prefilled small packets or cups, which are more expensive and harder to find.
Tattoo ink is usually sold in large bottles that artists will then pour into a disposable "cap" for each customer. The law, critics say, would effectively force tattoo artists to take a financial loss by dumping their supplies.
"I have thousands of dollars' worth of ink. I'm known to put out 20 or 30 [colors] when I'm tattooing somebody," Punsalang, 36, said. "This is my bread and butter; this is how I feed my three children."
After several days circulating on social media in upstate New York and on Long Island, the Change.org petition garnered the support of tattoo artists from as far away as Australia.
Lou Rubino, 45, of Selden, who owns seven Suffolk County tattoo parlors and a ink-manufacturing company, said the law poses a financial and logistical challenge for his businesses.
"My biggest thing was getting over the shock. This is gonna be a major change for everybody," he said.
Zebrowski, who said he's open to lifting the law's ink restriction based on the concerns, said the intent was to protect consumers as the industry grows.
New York requires licenses for studios and artists, mandates parental permission waivers for piercings for minors, and prohibits tattooing minors, but no restrictions are placed on materials.
"We have disease concerns and this is an unregulated industry," he said. "There needs to be some uniform rules and regulation in order to protect consumers."
Zebrowski said his staff did research and consulted tattoo artists before he introduced the bill in January 2013.
Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said he was as surprised as Zebrowski when he began receiving protest calls and emails.
After reading the petition, Carlucci said he would consider seeking to delay implementation of the law until the controversial language could be amended.
"I'm very happy to see many people involved in this conversation," he said. "I think we're going to be able to have a very successful outcome."
Carlucci said he has meetings scheduled with a number of tattoo artists, including Punsalang, starting Monday.
State health officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Major studies have shown little to no risk for infection for blood-borne illnesses from safely used and produced tattoo ink, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The real risk lies in the industry's rapid expansion -- and a rise in illegal parlors that don't take safety precautions, Rubino said.
"Concentrating legislation on stuff like this would be more important rather than the particular things that tattoo artists are using in the shops," Rubino said.
Punsalang said she's happy with the success of the petition and is looking forward to having a voice in any future tattoo industry legislation.
"I'm really proud of our industry," she said. "We need to be involved in the laws that affect us."