Retailers who defy the ban on selling electronic cigarettes to those under the age of 18 are facing increased enforcement action from the New York State Department of Health and New York State Police under emergency executive actions announced Sept. 15 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Cuomo directed both agencies to crack down on retailers that sell e-cigarettes in violation of the age restrictions. On Nov. 13, the age limit goes up to 21.
The state police and the Health Department will join forces to conduct undercover investigations under the Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act. The act allows underage individuals to be recruited on behalf of the state to attempt to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products.
Cuomo raised the possibility of going after retailers who violate the ban with a criminal charge of endangering the welfare of a minor.
“The state has a number of tools in their toolbox in this situation,” Cuomo said. “These stores that sell these products often have other state licenses. They may be licensed lottery sales offices. They may be SLA, State Liquor Authority, licensed to sell beer or alcohol in those establishments. So if they are found in violation, and again that is a possible criminal sanction, endangering the welfare of a minor for selling under 18. But beyond that there are civil fines, civil penalties, and they can lose pother state licenses. But that crackdown is going to be aggressive and is going to start now.”
Cuomo charged that e-cigarette companies are marketing flavors designed to get children addicted to nicotine. He has called for a ban on all flavors of vaping products other than tobacco and menthol. He said there is some data suggesting those flavors may help people who are trying to quit smoking.
Cuomo said that his administration will propose legislation next year to ban vaping companies from using advertising directed toward young people. Immediate action on banning flavors came from the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council on Sept. 17. It issued emergency regulations, going into effect in two weeks.
“Ironically, current vaping companies that were subject to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement are already prohibited from marketing tobacco products to young people. New companies that were not part of the Tobacco Settlement in 1998 are not so prohibited,” he said.
Cuomo said data show that in the past four years, the percentage of high school students who use e-cigarettes and vaping has increased 160%. He said 27% of all high school students now vape, with 40% of 12th-graders now using electronic cigarette products. “We do not know the long-term health effects of the use of this product,” he said. “Why? Because there has been no long-term study. So, no one can sit here and say any long-term use of vaping, where you are inhaling steam and chemicals deep into your lungs, is healthy.”
Appearing with Cuomo at a Sunday morning news conference were his special counsel and senior adviser Beth Garvey, State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
Zucker said that as of a few days ago New York has had 64 cases of lung disease linked to vaping. “Obviously the numbers in the country are rising as well,” Zucker said. “This is such an important issue. It is evolving, it is changing every day and we need to tackle this as fast as possible.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said that if the state applies the same age provisions it has on tobacco sales to all vaping products, the county would enforce whatever the new restrictions are. “The concerns are there, and I’ve talked to Dr. Sherlita Amler, the county health commissioner and she said that vaping is a danger,” he told the Business Journal. “Our county health department will implement whatever it is that the state does.”