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In light of COVID-19, what does banning flavored vaping achieve?

At a time when New York's hospitals are

At a time when New York's hospitals are overburdened with coronavirus patients, is this really the time for a ban that effectively creates a novel black market for unregulated flavored vaping products? Credit: Getty Images/smartboy10

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The nation is focused on containing a virus of mass proportions and mitigating the disastrous economic consequences of lockdowns.

But that didn’t stop Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from cheerily pushing his flavored vape ban in the state budget passed a few weeks ago in Albany.

This follows Cuomo’s September 2019 emergency ban on vaping flavors, excluding tobacco and menthol, later struck down by the State Supreme Court because the governor “exceeded” his authority.

Now passed by the State Legislature, the new measure prohibits the sale of tobacco and vaping products in pharmacies, bans online sales, and restricts vape shops from selling any vaping liquid but tobacco flavor.

Move over drug dealers, flavored vapes are the new hot product to sling on the streets.

At a time when New York’s hospitals are overburdened with coronavirus patients, is this really the time for a ban that effectively creates a novel black market for unregulated flavored vaping products?

Demand for flavored vapes by responsible adults, the majority of whom are former smokers trying to consume nicotine in a less harmful way, may disappear from storefronts, but it’ll easily be replaced and sourced by street dealers with a new customer base.

The governor and his allies claim the measure was necessary to prevent teen vaping and lung illnesses, but that’s false on two counts.

First, this measure punishes adult smokers who’ve found alternative products to protect kids who seek out risky products — as they’ve always done. Mind you, the state hates flavored vapes, won’t dare touch alcohol ice cream cones, and is considering legalizing cannabis in the next few months. The hypocrisy is blaring.

Shops selling vapes to kids were already breaking the law but not getting penalized. Rather than outsourcing the product to the black market — where dealers don’t ask for ID — we should implement harsher penalties on shops that sell to underage kids. Simple.

When it comes to lung illnesses caused by vaping, the CDC has repeatedly stated this was the result of illegal vape cartridges containing THC, not nicotine. This is like banning Bud Light in hopes of tackling the running of moonshine.

By banning nicotine vaping flavors, New York is inviting yet more bad actors to produce their own products, beyond the purview of regulations and safety. Could we see a new wave of lung illnesses due to these bootleg products already found on the street?

Perhaps the state would focus more on the very real pandemic it is facing rather than trying to crack down on products that responsible adult users depend on to quit smoking.

As late as February, Cuomo was lauding his anti-vaping efforts as “leading the nation in confronting this new and deadly epidemic.”

Little did he know he’d be consumed with a global pandemic of this magnitude just weeks later.

If you want to uphold public health, we must continue to fight for the legal production and sale of flavored vaping products.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, an advocacy group that has received funding from the cannabis, energy, consumer goods, and vaping industries.

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