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Nassau lawmakers pass ban on most flavored e-cigarettes, liquid nicotine

The Nassau County Legislature during the meeting on

The Nassau County Legislature during the meeting on Monday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Legislature on Monday approved legislation banning the sale of most flavored e-cigarette and liquid nicotine products in Nassau County.

Only flavorless and tobacco, mint or menthol flavored e-cigarette and liquid nicotine products can be sold in Nassau County under the measure introduced by Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview). The law will take effect Jan. 1.

The vote was 18-0, with John Ferretti (R-Levittown) absent. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran indicated she will sign the bill, a spokeswoman said.

Fines for violating the law will range from $500 to $1,000 for first offenses, and $1,000 to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.

Legislators heard testimony from pro-vaping advocates, many of whom wore blue, "Flavors Save Lives" T-shirts. Advocates of the bill spoke in favor of a ban, arguing that manufacturers look to hook kids on vaping through a selection of attractive flavors. But opponents of the ban argue that flavored vaping is a way to help adult tobacco users quit smoking. 

Legislators were close to a vote Oct. 28, a week before county legislative elections. But after hearing comments from flavored vaping advocates, Republicans in the majority put off a vote, citing a desire to gather more research. Democrats objected to the delay, and rallied with anti-vaping advocates days before the Nov. 5 elections.

Lorna Lewis, superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district, testified Monday that schools "are spending scarce dollars to keep those e-cigarettes out of our schools" with anti-vaping devices and additional security. "Please, get rid of them," she urged the legislature.

Lewis quoted a line from a song in the film "Mary Poppins," to illustrate the appeal of flavored vaping to youngsters: "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down," she told legislators. 

"That's what the mint and all these flavors do, because without that, those children would not be partaking of the e-cigarettes," she said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 1,604 lung injuries associated with e-cigarettes or vaping in all states except for Alaska, and 34 deaths in 24 states.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in September announced that New York State had banned the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids. But a state appellate court granted an e-cigarette industry group's request for a stay, putting the regulations on hold.

Greg Mihailovich, community advocacy director with the American Heart Association, said "this is an opportunity for Nassau County" to "go further and set an example for the rest of New York State."

Some experts pressed the legislature to eliminate the exception for menthol and mint flavors.

Opponents of the law spoke at length about how vaping helped them quit cigarette smoking.

Dennis Mink, of Floral Park, said he quit smoking by trying vaping after 48 years. "Flavors save lives," he said. "I don't have the addictions any more … if it wasn't for vaping, I'd be smoking."

Matthew Elliott, a consumer advocate from Ronkonkoma, said opponents of the law "are small, independent, mom-and-pop companies."

"We are concerned users of vapor products to quit smoking, that was our goal. That's what we wanted, and it has helped us," Elliott said. 

Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said approving the law was "not so obvious to me." He said, "I'm concerned that perhaps we're creating a black market," before ultimately voting to approve the bill "with some trepidation, with some concern."

Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said in a written statement: "We cannot allow a whole new generation hooked on these toxic products. Nassau is committed to protecting our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and the many health risks these products bring."

In Suffolk, Legis. William Spencer — a physician — withdrew a similar bill last week, citing “substantial concerns” about its potential impact on public health at a legislative health committee. 

With Rachelle Blidner

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