LIVINGSTON, NJ — Following a public hearing that resulted in the Livingston Township Council adopting an ordinance to prohibit “vape shops” and other such establishments from opening within Livingston’s business districts, Councilman Shawn Klein, who was absent on the night of the final vote, extended his thoughts on the matter as both a member of the governing body and as a health professional.

“I am proud of this council and the action it took,” he said about the final vote. “No one wants to live in a nanny state but a community needs to figure out where it should draw a line. This council had an opportunity to try to limit damage, to protect its residents, and did not let that opportunity go by. As a town and as a government, we need to continue to make choices about what kind of town we want to be.”

Klein noted that cigarette manufactures have historically been “massively dishonest about how addictive and dangerous their products were,” and that documents show that cigarettes were “designed and altered to be extremely addictive.” He added that manufacturers have gone so far as to genetically engineer tobacco leaves to have increasingly higher amounts of nicotine.

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“These companies knew even in the 1950s that their products were deadly, but they repeatedly hid that information and argued it was untrue,” said Klein. “The results of Big Tobacco’s efforts have been millions of deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, bladder cancer, emphysema and rheumatological disease.” 

As a practicing ophthalmologist, Klein said that “even the eyes are affected with smoking,” which leads to “higher rates of macular degeneration and earlier cataracts.”

“The external cost to our society to pay for and take care of all of these sick people has been staggering,” he said. “The billions of dollars paid by tobacco companies in lawsuits brought by governments in this country speaks to this. And let’s be mindful that cigarette smoking still remains a real public health issue—lung cancer still kills 150,000 people per year.”

When vaping first came along, Klein said that the product was promoted as an alternative to smoking, and one that could help smokers leave cigarettes behind. However, he also cited several reasons why Livingston residents “should be wary of vaping” and the risks that studies are only beginning to uncover.

According to Klein, studies have shown that vapor products make airways more sticky to bacteria, increasing the risk of pneumonia; increase fatty deposits in the liver and increases rates of heart disease; and use chemicals for flavoring that have been shown to damage blood vessels in the lungs.

“Of course, we have to remember that vaping is used for nicotine delivery,” said Klein. “Many addicts who have reported that it is harder to stop using nicotine than even heroine and as these long-term health effects of vaping become more salient, addicts may still be unable to stop. There are laws against teens using these products—but just like alcohol and cigarettes, teens will get access, and with flavors like cotton candy, gummy bears and banana pudding, teens are a target audience.”

He added that studies have also shown that vaping often leads back to cigarette smoking. In fact, last week, “Wired” magazine reported on new lawsuits against Juul, an e-device maker, for using higher nicotine dosages than those found in cigarettes, according to Klein.

“First off, it’s now clear that while initially there may have been a hope that vapers would step away from cigarettes, people who vape often don’t stop smoking cigarettes,” he said. “What is significantly worse, new vapers start smoking cigarettes at higher rates than the general population.”

Klein shared the findings of another study, where scientific modeling estimated that about 2,070 cigarette-smoking adults in America quit in 2015 with the help of the electronic devices, but that an additional 168,000 adolescents and young adults who had never smoked cigarettes began smoking and eventually became daily cigarette smokers after first using e-cigarettes.

In voting against allowing vape shops to open in Livingston, Klein said that anyone who does wish to buy vaping solutions are still free to do so at 7-Eleven or other convenience stores, but that “when a store has vaping as its principal product, there is a change in context and emphasis.”

“These storefronts promote their products in brightly colored window displays, do Email blasts about new flavors and hold gatherings inside,” he said. “Their stores bring more vapers into our town. Vaping becomes a community focal point…There is still free choice here for Livingston residents—to the extent that consumers have free choice when they are using highly addictive substances.”

Deputy Mayor Al Anthony, a toxic torts attorney, reaffirmed his reasoning for voting against the ordinance after hearing the many health concerns that Klein brought to the fore. He stated that he thinks the governing body is “out in front of this one” by voting to ban these types of establishments.

“From my personal perspective of fighting chemicals and chemical exposure, it was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “I would rather ban them and find out later on I was wrong and then maybe have them do a variance or something to come into the town than have 15 of them pop up and we’ve brought something potentially dangerous [to the town].”

Anthony was joined by Mayor Ed Meinhardt and Councilman Rudy Fernandez in voting to ban any establishment that primarily sells “electronic devices, liquid nicotine or vapor products” in the township’s retail commercial zones earlier this month, with only Councilman Michael Silverman voting against it.

To hear more about Silverman’s reasoning for voting against the ordinance as well as comments from the public, click HERE.

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