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Oyster Bay seeks to regulate vaping; e-cigarette industry pushes back

Matt Flax is the owner of Vaporville in

Matt Flax is the owner of Vaporville in Hicksville. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The e-cigarette industry is pushing back against a proposed Oyster Bay local law to restrict the businesses as other municipalities have done in recent years.

When Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino announced the proposed legislation last month, he said it would help protect young people and the town’s quality of life. Industry members attending a May 7 public hearing on the proposal told the town board such regulations hurt mom-and-pop shops while allowing convenience stores to sell the same electronic cigarette products, as well as traditional tobacco-based cigarettes.

The proposed ordinance would restrict new vaping stores, smoke shops and hookah lounges to areas zoned for light industrial uses. The stores affected, generally, would be those that derive 40 percent or more of their business from the sale of tobacco, e-cigarettes, pipes, e-liquids and marijuana derivatives. The stores and lounges would also need to be at least 1,000 feet away from residential property, schools, parks, churches and playgrounds. Businesses selling the products would also be required to post signs warning of their dangers.

Town officials said existing businesses would be grandfathered in, if they have the proper permits.

But keeping vape shops off Main Streets “would be giving cigarettes sales the advantage and smokers will continue smoking," said Cheryl Richter, executive director of the industry group New York State Vapor Association.

”By unfairly forcing any vape shops to areas in towns where the strip clubs are and whatever, you're sending a signal to the adults that vaping is seedy, dirty and bad for them.” she said at the hearing.

E-cigarettes use a battery powered heating element to warm liquid nicotine which is then inhaled by the user.

 A number of other Long Island municipalities have sought to curb the growth of such establishments. Neighboring Hempstead requires vape stores to post signs warning that they contain nicotine, which is addictive. North Hempstead in 2016 restricted vape stores and hookah bars to industrial and business zones.

Oyster Bay Councilman Steve Labriola said at the hearing that he agreed with keeping the shops away from children but questioned whether the proposal went too far.

“It's overly restrictive in keeping it only in light industrial areas when in fact this is a legal activity; it's legal to vape,” Labriola said. “A lot of people find it to be an alternative to smoking cigarettes and cigars.”

Matt Flax, who owns Vaporville, a Hicksville shop that sells electronic cigarette products, said in an interview that the proposal wouldn’t affect his business because it’s already in an industrial zone, but the law would create a double standard.  

“They’re not going to take it out of the 7-Elevens in the township,” Flax said of vaping products. “If it’s about making kids stop smoking, enforce the laws that are currently on the books.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that e-cigarette use among youth has been rising — growing by 1.5 million users from 2017 to 2018, with use among high school students increasing from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent.

Cathy Samuels, project director at the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition, an organization that promotes drug abuse education, praised the proposal.

“This is the kind of change we need to protect the future of our children's health,” Samuels said at the hearing. “No one wants to take anyone's business away," she said, "but please think about the health of our children as they navigate adolescence.”

Other recent town vaping restrictions on Long Island

Brookhaven: In 2016, prohibited new indoor hookah and vaping lounges from opening near schools and parks.

Islip: In 2016, passed a regulation to treat vape stores and lounges as adult businesses that can operate only in industrial areas.

Smithtown: In 2018, prohibited vaping stores from operating within 1,500 feet of parks, playgrounds, schools and religious institutions.

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