State budget shakes up e-cig industry 

A bill aimed at curbing youth e-cigarette use in New York that was passed as part of the state budget last week will mean stark changes for vape retailers, some of whom contend the measure could spell an end to much of their industry.

The legislation is among the most sweeping in the nation, and would effectively regulate vapor products the same as cigarettes, creating a uniform policy.

That means no vape flavors besides tobacco, unless the flavor has received premarket approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), no online sales to consumers, and an end to sales of e-cigarettes or e-liquid in pharmacies. The bill also bans the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies.

The regulation on flavors goes into effect on May 19. The rest of the bill’s provisions will be enforced beginning July 1.

Cuomo has pushed to ban flavored vaping products since last year, citing a rise in e-cigarette use among high schoolers and a potential public health crisis. The 2019 Monroe County Youth Risk Survey reported that 23 percent of high schoolers had used an e-cigarette in the past month, compared to just 8 percent in 2017, while cigarette use fell from 5 percent to 3 percent in the same timeframe.

Jonah Bruno, the director of communications at the state Department of Health, cited a similar trend across New York and emphasized the bill is aimed at curbing teen use of e-cigarettes and vapor products and not, as some vape retailers contend, shutting down vape shops.

“The statewide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarette liquids and other tobacco control measures included in the recently enacted budget, are an extension of New York’s ongoing efforts to reduce youth vaping,” Bruno said. “The addition of flavors in e-cigarette liquids is a key marketing tactic Big Tobacco uses to appeal to children and addict a new generation to nicotine.”

The budget also set a goal of eliminating “billions of dollars associated with the astronomical cost of healthcare for tobacco-related illnesses” through the policy.

Cuomo foreshadowed that aim in his State of the State address in January, saying New York would use “every tool at our disposal to help keep children safe and stop them from forming an unhealthy and potentially deadly lifelong addiction.”

The signing of the bill was a defeat for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), an advocacy group that opposed banning flavors.

“We’re talking about hundreds of vapor shops being shut down,” Alex Clark, the CEO of CASAA, said. “The bill that passed basically shut off all points of access for consumers besides convenience stores.”

Clark said that limiting flavors to tobacco and a handful of others that already have FDA approval would drive e-cigarette users to the black market or to return to traditional tobacco.

“People are going to find any means to get a hold of these products,” Clark said. “Whether that means making it themselves, ordering them illegally online, or finding someone who’s selling the product out of the back of a van.”

Owners of brick and mortar vape shops are already trying to devise ways to diversify their product line.

Andrew Ribble, owner of Liquid Cloud Lounge & GreenHaus CBD on Monroe Avenue, is considering pivoting his business to coffee and CBD smoothies.

“I knew it was going to happen, I didn’t know when, but I knew it was going to,” Ribble said. “If this is so detrimental, why don’t you ban smoking? If it was across the board, anything you inhale that has nicotine is now illegal, then okay, you’re doing something that’s a healthy choice for the citizens.”

Ribble had many choice words for Cuomo, but his major gripe was that New York was not considering the science behind e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

He pointed to a 2016 study from the Royal College of Physicians, the trade organization for doctors in the United Kingdom, that found e-cigarettes were 95-percent less dangerous than smoking. The organization and Public Health England have embraced e-cigarettes as a tool to help smokers kick their habit, unlike their counterparts in the United States.

“Cuomo is always saying he believes in science and facts, so why not here, why not in this case?” Ribble said.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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