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New York State could raise e-cigarette, tobacco age to 21 in Cuomo budget plan

A newsstand in midtown Manhattan selling cigarettes in

A newsstand in midtown Manhattan selling cigarettes in 2017. Credit: Charles Eckert

Vapers and cigarette smokers would have to be at least 21 years old to buy their products in New York State under a proposal Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said will be part of his 2019 budget plan.

And no pharmacies would be able to  sell tobacco products, he proposed in a statement on Saturday. CVS has not sold tobacco since 2014, but many drugstores still do so.

"In New York, we refuse to stand idly by while unscrupulous businesses target our young people and put their very futures at risk," Cuomo said ahead of his Tuesday budget address. He also plans to recommend legalizing marijuana, codifying abortion rights, imposing congestion tolls on Manhattan roads and giving child victims of sex crimes more time to seek criminal charges or sue abusers.

Currently, e-cigarettes, often with kid-appealing flavors such as cotton candy, and tobacco products can be sold to 18-year-olds — except in 15 counties, including Nassau and Suffolk, and New York City, which already require buyers to be 21. Younger teens, Cuomo noted, often obtain e-cigarettes — whose use is soaring among high schoolers — from friends who buy them legally.

E-cigarette users inhale nicotine or chemical flavors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, also mulling tougher rules, last August began requiring all sellers and advertisers to include health warning statements.

A Cuomo spokesman did not say whether the Health Department will continue to pursue a proposal prohibiting the possession, distribution or sale of almost all flavored e-cigarettes that it unveiled in November.

Cuomo said only that he will clarify the department's power to ban the sale of certain flavored liquids used in e-cigarettes, among other measures.

The department's earlier plan only would have excluded tobacco and menthol-flavored cigarettes. Menthol appeals to adults, experts say, not teens, who favor cherry, cinnamon, chocolate and bubble-gum flavors. 

Suffolk might soon enact a sweeping ban. Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said by telephone he might revise his bill banning flavored e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine. 

Possibilities, he said, include stiffening how online buyers verify their ages, limiting individual bulk sales to keep e-cigarettes from being resold to minors, and restricting marketing to youngsters at places such as amusement parks.

"I am very concerned with the epidemic; I do plan to take action," he said. 

"We are in support of Doc Spencer's legislation," a spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone said. In April, Suffolk will impose a new $2,000 fine for each violation of the age requirement after the first sale, which carries a $1,000 penalty.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran saluted Cuomo's statewide plan.

"This legislation is more important than ever with rising tobacco and e-cigarette use trends among our youth," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York had no immediate comment.

Saying the sale of e-cigarettes "is almost entirely unregulated," Cuomo also proposed limiting sales to licensed retailers. 

Vapes, vaporizers, vape and hookah pens and electronic cigarettes can deliver nicotine and other chemicals in a liquid that is heated by batteries and then inhaled, the FDA says. 

Puffers can inhale formaldehyde, which causes cancer; volatile organic compounds, which can harm their livers, kidneys and nervous systems; and flavoring chemicals, some linked to a serious lung disease, the American Cancer Society says. 

But Cheryl Richter, executive director of the New York State Vapor Association, said vaping was safer than cigarettes and much more likely to enable people to quit than nicotine patches.

"Adults use flavors specifically to help them stay away from cigarettes," she said. "The brain realizes that you get nicotine from something that tastes good" instead of a foul-smelling cigarette. Her group, she said, backs toughening proofs buyers submit to verify their ages. A group spokesman said perhaps even fines should be imposed if minors have e-cigarettes.

Michael Seilback, National Assistant Vice President of State Public Policy for the American Lung Association, said Cuomo's plan would save lives and tax dollars.

“Smoking kills more than 28,000 New Yorkers per year and costs the state $10 billion annually," he said.

Nearly 21 percent of high schoolers are vaping, a 78 percent rise from 2017 to 2018, the FDA says. For middle schoolers, the increase was 48 percent, with just under 5 percent using e-cigarettes.

Some e-cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes or cigars. Others resemble pens or USB flash drives, the FDA says.

In July 2017, Cuomo banned the sale of e-cigarettes in buildings and on the grounds outside schools, from preschool through high school.

In November, the FDA said it was aiming to protect kids from all e-cigarettes — except ones flavored with mint, menthol and tobacco — by limiting sales to "age-restricted, in-person locations." Online sales would have more age verification requirements, it said. Also that month, Juul, a major e-cigarette company, said it would stop selling most flavored pods.

"We have made great strides to stamp out teen smoking, but new products threaten to undo this progress to the detriment of millions of Americans," Cuomo said.

With AP

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