ALBANY — Changes in tobacco and vaping policies were included in the 2021 budget passed by the state April 3.
Among the most significant changes were policies local anti-tobacco advocates have been battling against for some time — the sale of flavored vaping products and the sale of tobacco products of any kind by pharmacies.
Flavored vapor products will be banned statewide May 18, along with ending online sales delivered to private residences. Selling tobacco products in pharmacies will be prohibited effective July 1.
“This year’s priority was getting the ban on flavored e-cigarettes because we know that those flavors attract young people to vaping and open the pathway to nicotine addiction without them even realizing it,” said Karen dePeyster from Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties. “The problem has gotten so bad that 40% of high school seniors report using vape products, and the sad part is that most of these are young people who would never touch a cigarette. The flavor ban will take away a lot of the appeal of e-cigarettes and we expect the numbers using vape products to decrease.”
Surveys by health officials of students in the four-county GLOW region found that youth were increasingly using e-cigarettes in Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties and in some cases at rates above the New York State average.
But the legislation is criticized by those seeking a nicotine alternative to smoking, which they say poses a far more serious danger to public health, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Taking vapor products, which are safer nicotine alternatives, from people who smoke or switched from smoking is a bad and irresponsible decision, especially at a time now when people are dying from a severe respiratory disease that is made worse by the underlying diseases that are attributed to smoking,” said Alex Clark, CEO of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association.
Smoking-related illnesses such as COPD, asthma and chronic bronchitis can lead to more severe cases of COVID-19, but vaping does not, and taking that option away from some vapor product users can send them back to smoking, Clark said.
“We know from states like Massachusetts, which banned vapor products during the lung-injury scare, that some people went back to smoking,” Clark added.
The lung injuries that occurred several months ago were not the result of vaping, Clark said, but rather an additive, vitamin E acetate, that was added to some THC vaping products.
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, is in favor of the ban on flavored vaping products.
“Disguising harmful chemicals with candy-like flavors that appeal to young people is unconscionable and a terrible disservice to our children and families,” Barrett said. “Readily accessible and candy-like packaging of tobacco products make it far too easy for kids to become addicted to nicotine and put them in danger of numerous health risks down the road.”
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, said flavored vaping products lure children in and agreed they should be banned.
“E-cigarettes, vaporizers and related products are being marketed towards our youth using very devious marketing ploys,” Tague said.
Representatives at Tobacco-Free GOW, in a story reported in October by The Daily News, said they have found and heard from schools that students are going through two to three Juul pods a day - the equivalent of 40 to 60 cigarettes worth of nicotine a day.
E-cigarette use by high school students in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties has shot up significantly since they were first introduced in 2012, the organization said.
Surveys of e-cigarette used for a 30-day period among youth in grades 7 through 12 in Wyoming County found 18.3 percent in 2017 had used an e-cigarette within 30 days, while among the same age group in Orleans County the result was 14 percent. Both results were more than the state average of 9.9 percent for that year.
In 2018, Genesee County health officials surveyed youth in grades 8, 10 and 12 and found 20.5 percent of students used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, which was greater than the state average of that year of 19.3 percent.
A similar 2018 survey by Livingston County health officials, found that 21 percent of youth reported using e-cigarettes and that 17 percent reported using them in the past 30 days.