The Nassau County Legislature is due to vote Monday on a well-meaning but ultimately futile bill that would require retailers to keep e-cigarettes behind the counter and at least two feet away from toys and candy. The idea is to restrict advertising next to the checkout counter — a see-no-evil mentality.
There is little chance, however, that this proposal would erase the perceived glamour of vape culture.
The recent increase in vape sales is certainly cause for concern. While e-cigarettes were developed as a healthier alternative for long-time cigarette smokers, many young people who never smoked are now developing a nicotine habit.
A 2016 study found that teens who vape are predominantly motivated by looking “cool.” Vaping has been molded into the image of the fun young person. Despite fears that vaping is a gateway to traditional smoking, many teens actually perceive cigarettes as disgusting — the tar, the yellow teeth, the pungent smell. Vaping offers a stylish alternative — a sleek, tech-savvy, well-designed product with nice-tasting vape juice. A glorified cigarette.
This legislation risks ushering in a less-extreme version of prohibition. It inadvertently makes the coveted product more desirable. It is not easy to eliminate an entire social trend with a law. Vaping is a part of the zeitgeist — a status symbol in high schools, a cure for social anxiety on college campuses that was once solved with the traditional cigarette.
For a long time, the threat of cancer and carcinogens didn’t stop the allure of James Dean or Marlon Brando. Minor prohibitive laws will do very little to dissuade from the trendiness of mango-flavored e-cigs.