YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The writing is on the wall for vape shops across New York State, leaving one in Yorktown to try to unload its products while it still can.
Near the end of the 2018 legislative session, a bill was introduced in New York State that would ban all flavored vaping or e-cigarette products, except for tobacco and menthol, effectively striking a death blow to the vaping industry.
Though the session ended without the legislation moving forward, reports have surfaced in recent weeks indicating that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, backed by two Democratic-controlled houses, will begin his third term by taking swift action against flavored e-liquids, or juices, as they are known, which have risen in popularity among teenagers. If instituted, it would become the first statewide ban of its kind.
“It’s not smart for us to stay in that business and wait for it to crash on us,” said Lara Galper, who co-owns Vape Escape with her husband, Steve.
Last month, the Galpers announced to their 2,000-plus customers that Vape Escape would close Friday, Nov. 30, due to impending state and federal regulations. The couple also owns Genesis Jewelers in the Triangle Center.
Lara Galper suspects some sort of regulations will take effect in January when the New York State legislature reconvenes. Bill S8610, if approved, would take effect immediately, making it illegal for proprietors to sell flavored e-liquids.
“That bill is written, ready to go,” she said.
Pete Harckham, state senator-elect (D-South Salem), said he has not thoroughly read the proposed legislation, but said he generally supports the concept of banning or limiting access to flavored e-liquids.
The e-liquids that fill the vaporizers or e-cigarettes are usually sold separately from the devices and come in thousands of flavors, such as apple juice, bubble gum and cotton candy, which legislators say may be a reason for its popularity among teenagers.
“They’re really just designed to hook in young people,” Harckham said.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 20.8 percent of high school students and 4.9 percent of middle school students use some form of what the federal government is calling Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS. These figures are up from 2017, when 11.7 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students said they used them.
Harckham said vape product proprietors, such as Vape Escape, always have the option to sell other products.
“You think of the proprietors, but you also think of the dangers of the products and the health impacts,” Harckham said. “These are dangerous products.”
On Nov. 15, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the FDA, published a lengthy statement in which he directed its Center for Tobacco Products to explore a ban on all flavored e-liquids, except for tobacco, mint and menthol. However, Gottlieb said, he may revisit also banning mint and menthol.
“The bottom line is that these efforts to address flavors and protect youth would dramatically impact the ability of American kids to access tobacco products that we know are both appealing and addicting,” Gottlieb said.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-17th C.D.), in a letter published in The New York Times, applauded Gottlieb’s “potentially lifesaving decision” while urging the agency to go even further.
“Young people are clever and resourceful and will find a way to obtain flavored e-cigarettes, as long as the devices remain on the market,” Lowey wrote. “Anything short of an outright ban puts an entire generation at risk of nicotine addiction.”
Lara Galper said Vape Escape has not sold a product to a minor in its two-plus years in business, having passed several audits.
However, Lara Galper said, she is not unaware that her products may end up in the hands of teenagers.
“For kids, yeah, it’s a cool thing,” she said. “You can hide it from your parents. You can’t get caught. We used to get caught because you smelled like a cigarette. You don’t smell like anything.”
Lara Galper said many teens don’t realize the amount of nicotine they’re inhaling, especially in JUUL brand vaporizers. JUUL “pods” can contain up to 59 milligrams of nicotine, she said.
Many vape products allow the user to choose a liquid with their desired nicotine level. Lara Galper, for example, said she uses liquids that have zero nicotine. Because of this, they are often seen as an option for people looking to cut back on nicotine but still satisfy an oral fixation.
From a health standpoint, Lara Galper thinks vaping regulations could have unintended consequences by pushing people back to smoking regular cigarettes.
“People are panicking,” she said. “They don’t want to go back to smoking.”
Her husband, however, doesn’t think these consequences would be so unintended. Taking a more cynical view, Steve Galper said cigarettes are highly taxed in New York State and the government has been missing out on that revenue.
Connecticut and New York share the highest tax rate with $4.35 per pack of cigarettes.
“It’s about money and it’s wrong,” Steve Galper said.
Though the FDA is hosting a public hearing on Dec. 5 on these proposed regulations, Steve Galper said he thinks the decision has already been made.
“Do you think you or I really have a say in the matter?” he said. “I personally think what we say falls on deaf ears.”
The Galpers, pointing to New York State’s potential legalization of marijuana, said Gov. Cuomo is being hypocritical. In states where recreational marijuana use is legal, Steve Galper said, the products are sold in “gummy” form, which might also be appealing to teens.
“That’s going to be a teen epidemic, too, if you legalize marijuana,” Lara Galper said.
She said that when the ban takes effect, residents will not be able to have these products delivered to their homes in New York State.
“They’re stocking up,” she said of her customers. “They’re wiping us out of their favorite juice.”
The proposed state and federal regulations come on the heels of Westchester County voting in June to raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.