Mid-Hudson vape shop operators and customers reacted with dismay on Monday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to ban flavored electronic cigarettes, with predictions of shop closures and a rise in combustible cigarette smoking.
A state Health Department decision-making body will vote at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, effective immediately, though retailers will have a two-week grace period before full enforcement begins Oct. 4, a DOH spokeswoman said Monday.
In pressing the DOH action, the governor cited growing e-cigarette use among adolescents and teenagers, who, studies show, favor non-tobacco flavors such as bubblegum, and a spate of recent illnesses and deaths from black-market marijuana vaping cartridges.
Legal nicotine vaping products, such as those made by leading e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, have not been implicated in the outbreak.
Cuomo already signed a bill, in July, raising New York's tobacco and e-cigarette purchasing age to 21. Tuesday’s ban will not affect tobacco- and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes.
“I might have to close the doors,” Tom Segrich, owner of the New York Vape Collection shop on Route 211 in the Town of Wallkill, said Monday.
Plenty of adults smoke non-tobacco flavors, Segrich said. He estimates flavored e-cigarettes make up 40 percent of his sales.
“My customers aren’t going to vape tobacco" flavor, he added. "They’ll go back to smoking. We don’t even keep tobacco flavor on the shelf because demand is non-existent.”
Segrich hopes to survive by selling kratom herb and the hemp compound cannabidiol, or CBD, which purportedly relief pain and inflammation.
State officials argue that youth use of flavored e-cigarettes is a public health crisis, with the DOH estimating that 40 percent of New York’s high school seniors and 27 percent of high school students vape nicotine.
Besides the state DOH's Public Health and Health Planning Council voting on Tuesday for regulations to ban flavored e-cigarettes, the governor will advocate for a similar e-cigarette law.
“Emergency regulations will address this urgent situation until the legislature convenes in January, at which point a permanent statutory solution will be pursued,” a state Department of Health spokeswoman said in an email.
Juul released a statement saying it no longer sells flavored vaping products in retail stores, though the company still sells them online, and the company supports “aggressive category-wide action on flavored products.”
The company said it is “fighting against counterfeit and compatible products made with unknown ingredients under unknown manufacturing standards, and will fully comply with local laws."
Reactions at three Town of Wallkill vape shops on Monday ranged from anxiety to disapproval.
Without flavored e-cigarettes, “Our customers are concerned they’ll go back to smoking” combustible cigarettes, said Jason Webber, store manager of Vapers Choice on Route 211.
To help her boyfriend quit cigarette smoking, Amanda Walsh, 31, of the Town of Poughkeepsie, bought a vaping device and a Sour Patch Kids-inspired flavored juice at the New York Vape Collection on Monday.
Walsh thinks that state regulators should better enforce existing vaping-related laws, as they do with flavored alcohols, to prevent high school students from vaping rather than restricting flavors.
“The kids shouldn’t even be getting it – that’s on the parents, and enforcement,” Walsh said.
Over at the nearby Smokers Heaven vape and tobacco shop, Stephen Marc, 27, of the Town of Walllkill, echoed Walsh’s views.
New York is among several states moving to restrict e-cigarette use, “but their priorities are off,” Marc said as he purchased a Juul product. If state leaders really want to save lives, “Why would we regulate vaping but not guns?”