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Lindenhurst wants to limit vape stores, hookah bars

Assistant manager Devon Barnett is behind the counter

Assistant manager Devon Barnett is behind the counter on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016 at Dapper Vapor, 411 40th St., Lindenhurst. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Officials in Lindenhurst Village are proposing a moratorium on new stores selling electronic cigarettes, a move that is one of the first of its kind on Long Island.

The proposed law would put a stop to any new vape, or e-cigarette, stores — of which the village now has four — as well as hookah bars, of which the village has none. The law would also halt any marijuana “derivative” dispensaries, targeting businesses that sell cannabidiol, or CBD oil.

Although several Long Island municipalities in recent years have sought to limit e-cigarette use in public areas, Lindenhurst looks to be the first to try and put a limit on the stores that sell them.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Lindenhurst Village Hall.

Deputy Mayor Mike Lavorata said the moratorium is an attempt to attract more family-friendly businesses. “We really don’t want to have this kind of business in our downtown,” he said. “We don’t want to add anything that could cause kids to experiment with something new.”

Vaping involves the use of battery-operated devices, often referred to as vaporizers, called mods, that heat a liquid. Upon inhaling from the device and then exhaling, a vapor is created. The liquid, often called juice, typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin and food flavoring.

The devices sold in vape stores range from penlike cylinders to rectangular boxes, while the liquid, some of which contains no nicotine, comes in hundreds of flavors. As with tobacco products - and disposable e-cigarettes that are sold in convenience stores - a buyer in Suffolk County must be 21 or older to purchase vaping items.

Vaping has soared in popularity in recent years and as a result the number of vape stores on Long Island has grown sharply. In 2014 there were fewer than 10 stores: now there are nearly four dozen, from Valley Stream to Southampton.

The industry is rooted in people trying to wean themselves off cigarettes, but there’s also a supportive social aspect to vaping as well, said Connor McCormick, a manager at Vapormax in Lindenhurst.

“It was a subculture,” he said. “Now, it’s a community.”

Earl Reynolds, 50, of Amityville, said he was a cigarette smoker for more than 30 years and vaping is the only thing that helped him quit for good. Reynolds said he has gradually decreased the amount of nicotine in his liquid.

“I tried hypnosis, the nicotine patch, you name it,” he said. “But this right here has been the best thing for me.”

Those who vape say it’s healthier than the carcinogens and chemicals in cigarettes, but others say safer doesn’t necessarily mean safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate e-cigarettes. National health organizations say health risks remain unknown and have cautioned that nicotine is addictive, poisonous if swallowed, and that exposure to it at a young age may cause harm to brain development.

Devon Barnett, assistant manager at Dapper Vapor in Lindenhurst, said he is adamant about checking identification to make sure patrons are 21 years old. “It’s very important for us to keep that good reputation,” he said.

But critics point to the often colorful and cartoonlike designs on the bottles of vape liquid, which comes in flavors that mimic foods such as candy and milkshakes.

McCormick said many vape liquid manufacturers are taking it upon themselves to create labels that are less kid-friendly. Still, he said, vaping will appeal to young people “because it’s the hip thing to do now. It’s the new cigarettes.”

Lavorata said he has no delusions that the moratorium will stop teens from vaping, just as existing laws do not eradicate underage drinking. “This is not a panacea to solve all social issues,” he said.

Some have made a correlation between vaping and illegal drug use, a connection that store workers and customers said is false and harmful to the industry.

“We just have a concern that it could lead to people doing illicit and illegal drugs, especially cannabis,” Lavorata said.

Some vape stores also legally sell CBD oil, which comes from the cannabis plant and is said to have medicinal properties, but which does not cause a high like marijuana. In addition, some vape shops, such as Dapper Vapor, sell items associated with marijuana use, such as water pipes.

The store has a large sign outside with a green cross — a symbol similar to one used for medical marijuana — advertising that it is a “CBD dispensary, no prescription needed.”

During a recent visit by a Newsday reporter, a man came into the store asking if it was a medical marijuana dispensary. Workers at the store said someone asks this every few days.

This kind of misperception has caused other shops to stay away from selling items associated with marijuana. “We don’t want to be known as a head shop,” McCormick said.

Vape shop workers said the industry is mired in misunderstanding and that they view themselves as a public health benefit.

Ryan Hayes, a manager at Clean Vapor in Lindenhurst, said he quit smoking more than two years ago after his father died from COPD, a respiratory disorder linked to smoking.

“I’m just trying to help other people quit smoking,” he said, calling the proposed moratorium “unfair” to small business owners.

“It’s good to give any business a fair shot,” Barnett said. “Everyone’s allowed to open a 7-Eleven when they want.”

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