Suffolk County officials on Tuesday announced a crackdown on illegal vape sales over the weekend that resulted in 21 arrests.
County Executive Steve Bellone said vaping products are marketed toward children with sweet flavors and decorative packaging and he will work with the county Legislature to increase penalties for repeat offenders who sell to those who are under 21 so they are hit “in the pocketbook.”
The Food and Drug Administration last week called youth vaping an “epidemic” and has threatened makers and sellers of e-cigarettes if they don’t curtail their sales to minors. More than 2 million middle and high school students were users of e-cigarettes in 2017, according to FDA estimates, and use of the products is rising.
“We have zero tolerance for those who would break the law to sell these harmful, addictive products to our kids,” Bellone said.
The police department conducted an undercover sting over the weekend at 101 locations throughout the department’s seven precincts, where 21 individuals allegedly sold to minor undercover agents. They face misdemeanor charges, including second-degree unlawfully dealing with a child, which could result in up to 3 months in jail and a $500 fine, and the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21, which could mean 15 days to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“This should serve as a message,” Bellone said. “You will be identified, you will be caught and you will be held accountable.”
Two of the businesses were repeat offenders, said Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who called the issue “a public safety and a public health hazard” that is being combated through education and enforcement.
“Vaping among teens is a growing problem,” she said.
The police department spoke to more than 10,000 students in the county during the 2017-2018 school year about the dangers of vaping — its most-requested school program — and plans to expand the initiative, she said.
Suffolk officials and nonprofit organizations work both with students as young as fifth graders as well as schools and adults to discourage the use of vaping products.
“This is another aspect of protecting kids in our community,” Bellone said.
Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said some users also vape with marijuana.
“Vaping is not glamorous, nor is it safe,” he said.
Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Mineola-based Family and Children's Association, praised the weekend’s initiative and called vaping “the next big thing.”
“We’re getting in front of this earlier than we’ve gotten in front of other problems” like smoking and the opioid epidemic, he said. “We need to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes we made with tobacco.”