Allan Patel of Kings Park owns 12 small businesses on Long Island — and five of them are smoke shops. With a statewide ban on flavored electronic cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids now in effect, Mr. Patel said his two smoke shops on the North Fork will be hit hard.
“It’s really hard for all smoke shops, not only me,” said Mr. Patel. “Everybody is crying right now. The reason is the ban on flavor.”
Mr. Patel argued that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking, citing a statistic that 480,000 people die from cigarettes in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“So what kind of logic are they putting on vaping and cigarettes?” Mr. Patel said. “Why are they banning vaping and not cigarettes? Cigarettes are killing more people.”
The answer, said Kelly Miloski, a community prevention specialist, is that cigarettes are FDA-regulated, while vape products are not.
“We don’t know down the road what other negative long-term effects there are,” she said. “There are so many prevention efforts around tobacco to prevent kids from using … vaping isn’t regulated by the FDA. That’s the difference.”
Ms. Miloski, who works with nonprofit Riverhead Community Awareness Program Inc., said she and her team feel flavoring is the biggest issue.
“There aren’t flavors of cigarettes anymore, except for menthol and mint. Really, the flavors are what attract youth to the products,” she said.
Last month, New York became the first state to prohibit flavored vaping products, as officials declared a public health crisis. Retailers were given a roughly two-week grace period before enforcement was supposed to begin Friday. Those who violate the ban face fines of up to $2,000 per violation.
The enforcement will be delayed, however, after a state appellate court on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order.
“While the court’s ruling temporarily delays our scheduled enforcement of this ban, it will not deter us from using every tool at our disposal to address this crisis,” a statement from State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.
Last week, an Albany County Supreme Court judge had denied the vaping industry’s request for a temporary restraining order on the ban.
“Make no mistake, this is a fight for the very future of this state and for the health of all New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
Riverhead High School senior and Riverhead Youth Coalition member Maximilian Solarz, 17, said he is troubled by the amount of vaping he sees at school.
“It’s the normal thing that so many people do,” he said. “We see a lot in the bathrooms. That’s where … it happens because that’s where the kids can hide from the teachers and security guards. Since it’s so normalized, some kids do it in classrooms in front of teachers because it’s just so easy to conceal. The vapes look just like USB drives.”
Maximilian said most kids, according to data CAP and the Youth Coalition collect ever year or two, are first drawn in by the allure of exotic vape flavors – such as cotton candy, Froot Loops and the famed unicorn puke, which resembles rainbow sherbet. Then, it’s the nicotine that gets them.
“Every two years we conduct what’s called the Bach Harrison Prevention Needs Assessment Survey,” Ms. Miloski said. “2016 was the first time we added questions about vaping.”
She said vaping was brought to the group’s attention about four years ago.
“It wasn’t at first one of our primary substances we addressed because it was new … Unfortunately, it has come to a point where people are getting sick and even dying from vaping. ”
The primary goal of the ban is to prevent youth — to whom these products are directly marketed — from ever trying vaping. If they already do vape, the hope is that with flavorings reduced to only mint and menthol, they’ll be less inclined to smoke.
But even those flavors may now be in jeopardy. Gov. Cuomo announced Sept. 26 that he would be accepting the recommendations of state health commissioner Howard Zucker to expand the ban to include menthol flavors. Last week, the commissioner revealed findings of a survey showing that the preference for mint and menthol flavors among adolescent vapers ages 15 to 17 increased this year from roughly 20% to 34%.
Some shops, like Greenport Fire, a cigar and hot sauce specialty shop on Main Street, have already taken vape juices off their shelves. Owner Heather Suter said she’s eliminating the products, which make up less than 1% of her sales, and noted: “For us, it was an accessory item [and] once they started to carry them in big chain stores and convenience stores, we cut back on our inventory.” Her decision was not driven by the ban, she said, and her sales will not be affected.
But for Mr. Patel, vape flavors account for 50% of revenue and he estimates he will lose $50,000 per store as a result of the ban.
“If they want to stop, they should stop everything,” he said. “They don’t have to choose. If they ban everything, I’m happy. We do not want to kill people. We’re not here to kill people.”
Mr. Patel, who owns Tobacco King in Jamesport and NoFo Beer and Smoke in Mattituck, said all of his vape flavor inventory has to be thrown out because suppliers won’t take back the product. A Tobacco King employee said he is now unsure how long vape/smoke shops will last and how secure his job will be, but Mr. Patel said his shops will still sell beer, cigars, cigarettes and lottery tickets.