Distributors throughout the state, including Long Island, have been sued...

Distributors throughout the state, including Long Island, have been sued for illegally importing banned flavored vapes and selling them to disreputable retail outlets. Credit: AP/Rebecca Blackwell

This guest essay reflects the views of Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, which represents nearly 8,000 stores and more than 127,000 employees across the state, including Long Island.

While youth smoking and vaping have been in steady decline over the past few years, a new threat has become a cause for serious concern. Candy-flavored disposable vapes have become the number one choice for middle and high-schoolers.

The problem is, these vapes are already banned in New York and are illegal for sale anywhere in the country. Yet walk into any smoke shop from Brooklyn to Bay Shore to Buffalo and you’ll find them on the shelves marketed in bright colors and fruity flavors. They are glamorized by internet influencers, advertised on teen-friendly social media networks, and have celebrity endorsers sending the message that these products are cool.

The dirty little secret is that our elected leaders know this, but federal and state regulators have done nothing to crack down on this looming teen public health crisis.

The only concrete action thus far has been by local officials wielding novel lawsuits — the latest was filed earlier this month — that use racketeering law and other legal maneuvers usually reserved for more traditional criminal enterprises to cut off the pipeline for these illegal products. With New York City leading the way, 15 “distributors” throughout the state have been sued for illegally importing these banned flavored vapes and selling them to disreputable retail outlets. The distributors being sued include Long Island wholesalers in Jericho, New Hyde Park, Oceanside and Plainview.

This guest essay reflects the views of Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, which represents nearly 8,000 stores and more than 127,000 employees across the state, including Long Island.

But New York City can’t shoulder this responsibility alone. In the absence of meaningful state and federal action, other counties like Nassau and Suffolk need to join to present the strongest possible case.

What’s at stake here?

According to the federal 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, there has been a spike in vaping among middle school students. The report also found that the two brands of illegal flavored disposable vapes are the two most popular products among middle and high school-aged youth. Elf Bar is in the top spot — used by 1.16 million or 57% of underage vapers.

These products are made in China with flavors like cotton candy, sour raspberry, and bubble gum and despite being banned are imported to the U.S. with virtual impunity. Other disreputable manufacturers are also making these vapes to resemble highlighters and other school supplies in order to avoid detection in an academic setting.

FDA regulation without sufficient enforcement has created this illicit market and sabotaged society’s opportunity to help smokers quit. Responsible retailers are committed to offering adult consumers healthier alternatives to cigarettes, and vaping could be an important breakthrough. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have suggested that the medical community even adopt vapes as therapy options for smokers looking to kick the habit. The challenge is enforcing the market so that good products are available for sale and illegal products are kept off the shelves.

In a perfect world, the New York State attorney general’s office would pick up the baton and use New York City’s innovative legal approach with the full force and resources of state government behind it.

But, in the state’s continued absence, counties like Nassau and Suffolk should file their own similar suits and join New York City in their efforts to cut off the China-to-child disposable flavored vape pipeline at the source.

The future health and safety of an entire generation of New Yorkers is at stake.

  

This guest essay reflects the views of Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, which represents nearly 8,000 stores and more than 127,000 employees across the state, including Long Island.

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