PISCATAWAY, NJ -- Convenience stores and grocery stores around Piscataway could pay a price if they sell vaping related products near schools, parks, and day care centers.

With recent reports across the country of high school students developing respiratory related illnesses, and deaths linked to vaping, now known as “e-Cigarette Vaporative Associate Lung Injuries (EVALI)”, and subsequent bans on sales of specific e-cigarette liquid flavors, township officials will soon start enforcing Ordinance 19-29 targeting local sales.

The ordinance restricts where retailers can sell vaping products and e-cigarettes in the township in an effort to prevent children from being able to purchase and use these items.

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“Since there’s no public law in the country or in New Jersey that bans vaping, this is a unique way to minimize the impact on our youth within the community,” said Mayor Brian Wahler at a forum with health experts from Rutgers University at the municipal building on Monday.

The ordinance, which Wahler signed into law in December gives stores that currently stock vaping products and electronic cigarettes until the end January to clear their inventory if the business is located within 500 meters of a park or school or be subjected to fines.

Fines will vary, said Wahler: $250 for the first offense; $500 for the second; and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

The list includes nursery and pre-schools, all types of day care centers, PreK-12 schools, universities or colleges, funeral homes, health services facilities, assisted living facilities, religious institutions, and parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities.

 “This was done through zoning”, Wahler said, explaining how without a state law in place, “towns can’t go out their way to penalize individuals. This is for compliance through businesses who sell it.”

“The real fight for their health starts at a young age,” said Wahler who lost a close family member to smoking. “I don’t want to see a repeat to happen to someone’s child. I want to make it hard. It’s too much tragedy that can happen over time.”

While some adults say e-cigarettes have helped them stop using combustible cigarettes, “27 percent of high school students nationwide now use electronic cigarette devices regularly compared to 3 percent of adults,” said Kevin Schroth, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health.

Schroth, who previously served as the Senior Legal Counsel at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said this number with students has doubled over the past two years.

“Studies show certain devices have higher nicotine levels and could lead to increases in marijuana use in teens,” he said adding that with the flavorings and various chemicals used to create vaping liquids, which aren’t intended to be inhaled, “the harm to youth seems to outweigh the benefit to adults.”

“As a family doctor, not only is it our duty to take care of a patient, we have the obligation to help the community,” said Dr. Karen Lin, professor and assistant dean of Rutgers’ RWJ Medical School.

“Since 2015 our Piscataway Health Advisory Commission has been going to King School to talk to the 4th graders about the risks of starting smoking,” said Lin who is the commission’s medical advisor. “We know that by the time they are in high school it’s too far gone.”

Part of their talk now addresses the risks of e-cigarettes.

“We have seen that people utilize the e-cigarette as a way of trying to quite smoking,” said Lin. “But since 2019 there’s been a surge of middle school and high school kids that are using e-cigarettes.”

Schroth also noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is strengthening requirements for manufacturers to improve age verification processes to make it harder for children to purchase vaping products online without their parents’ knowledge.

“Residents, health educators and health care providers can access information abut current investigations, learn about the symptoms of lung injury, and find additional information about e-cigarettes by visiting www.middlesexcountynj.gov,” said Lester Jones, the county’s health services director.