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Nassau County bill aims to stem vaping by young people

The measure, which legislative committees will consider Monday, would require retailers to keep e-cigarettes and other vaping products behind the counter.

Flavored e-liquids, center, for sale Friday at Winners

Flavored e-liquids, center, for sale Friday at Winners Corner Inc., a convenience store near the Mineola LIRR station. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

A Nassau legislative committee is expected to vote Monday on a proposal to require retailers to keep e-cigarettes and other vaping products behind the counter as county officials try to steer young people away from popular e-cigarettes.

The measure, which is sponsored by majority Republican lawmakers and endorsed by County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, would restrict “point-of sale” advertising for the products and impose fines on tobacco sellers for not properly keeping vaping product displays behind the counter and away from candy and toys.

With flavors such as gummy bear and cotton candy, the liquid used with e-cigarettes is sometimes displayed near candy and toys in convenience stores — clearly marketing the products to young consumers, legislators said.

“These products and these flavors are clearly targeting young kids,” said legislative presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). “There’s a lot more we would like to do, but these are small and important steps to protect their health.”

The bill is scheduled for consideration Monday by the legislature’s Health and Rules committees. If it passes, the full legislature would have to approve the measure.

Introduction of the legislation, which would be enforced by the county consumer affairs department, comes after enactment earlier this month of a county law requiring buyers of tobacco products to be at least 21 years old.

GOP legislators said they backed the “Tobacco 21’ bill because of their growing concern about vaping in middle and high schools. Democrats had tried to pass the same legislation for nearly a decade, but failed because of Republican opposition. Republicans had argued that 19- and 20-year-olds should have the right to make their own decisions about whether to purchase tobacco products.

E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals using a battery-powered device.

Vaping was developed as a safer alternative to smoking conventional tobacco. But federal health officials say e-cigarettes are addictive and dangerous for young people who have never smoked because of the high nicotine content. Nicotine causes harm to adolescent brain development, and cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles can reach deep into the lungs, physicians say.

Heating the liquid tobacco produces a vapor that is relatively odorless, making use of the products more difficult to detect than conventional cigarettes.

“There is constantly an issue with children having these products. They vape in the bathrooms in the school; we’ve had issues with batteries exploding, because sometimes they buy the cheaper devices,” said Tania Stamp, president of the parent-teacher association at Westbury High School.

“Bottom line is that we need to know what is in this stuff and where it is coming from because they are really hard to detect and very easily mistaken for a flash drive,” said Stamp, who has two children in the high school.

The proposed Nassau legislation would require sellers to put e-cigarettes and the liquid tobacco products used with them behind the counter. E-cigarette advertising could be no less than 2 feet from any fixture where candy, trading cards or toys are displayed for sale. Fines for violating the law would be a minimum of $250.

Experts say underage users are attracted to e-cigarettes’ fruity flavors. The products can resemble USB flash drives. A sleek, compact device made by JUUL Labs Inc. has become so popular that teenagers refer to vaping as “juuling.”

Asher Bykov, 17, a rising senior at Roslyn High School, said kids at school use JUULs regularly. They carry the small devices in their pockets and smoke them in the school bathroom, he said.

“It’s a horrible addiction. I have friends who started doing it once every two months, then once a month and then once a week, then every day,” said Bykov, who was going to lunch with his mother and brother in downtown Garden City. “They go in between periods or during classes.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August 2016 extended its policy on conventional cigarettes to include vaping products. The new policy requires warning signs on e-cigarettes, and restricts sale to minors and in vending machines.

Suffolk County Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), sponsor of a 2015 Suffolk County law requiring e-cigarette warning signs at store cash registers, said FDA regulations don’t go far enough.

“I would encourage every legislator on every level of government to do this to protect kids,” Anker said of the Nassau proposal. “When they [children] are away from you and with their friends you don’t know what they are doing and it’s important for lawmakers to do what they can to warn them that these things are bad.”

Some 5,000 of New York State’s 8,700 convenience stores sell e-cigarettes, said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, based in Albany.

The American Vaping Association, a nonprofit trade group based in Stratford, Connecticut, supports keeping vaping products behind the counter. But Greg Conley, the group’s president, said, “The advertising restrictions in this bill are silly and almost certainly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has stated clearly that tobacco is a legal product and displaying such products is a constitutional right. Local legislators have taken an oath to honor and uphold the U.S. Constitution, and they don’t get to disregard that oath simply because they don’t like a legal product.”

Calvin said the state convenience store association’s legislative committee will examine the details of the Nassau bill before determining a position. But he noted that what the Nassau legislation is “saying is let’s make sure e-cigarette and liquid nicotine displays are segregated from candy and toy displays, just as we already do with tobacco, which makes perfect sense.”

VAPING EFFECTS

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat liquid into a vapor that is inhaled.

Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic, causing cancer and a host of other health problems. Since vaping is relatively new, there isn’t as much research on the long term health risks. However, medical experts agree vaping is a dangerous and habit-forming for children and teens.

Following are some of the known health risks:

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. It is highly addictive and known to harm adolescent brain development, which continues through the early to mid-20s.

E-cigarette vapor also can contain cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that are inhaled deep into the lungs.

Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused fires and explosions, some of which have resulted in serious injuries. Most explosions happened when the e-cigarette batteries were being charged.

Source: Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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