INTERNATIONAL - Sales of flavoured e-cigarettes and their liquid-filled cartridges will be banned in New York City starting in July, in a move lawmakers said was necessary to stem an epidemic of nicotine addiction among children.
Council members approved the measure 42-2, citing city health department estimates that 25% of high school students have used so-called vapes, or vaporized smoking devices, which they said are marketed to appeal to children, with such flavors as “watermelon twist” and “chocolate mint.”
“New York City cannot wait any longer with this ban, so we are taking action today to tell the industry to back off,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “Our children are vaping in large part because they are lured by these flavors.”
The Council’s action came after President Donald Trump reversed an earlier vow to ban flavored vapes, saying that doing so would encourage a black market with unregulated and unsafe products. Also this month, the Massachusetts legislature approved a law that would make it the first state to ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, and imposing a 75% tax on the wholesale price of all nicotine vaping products.
The New York City law, to go into effect in July, would impose civil fines of as much as $5,000 for repeated violations and suspension of a license as a retailer. Any retailer possessing six or more e-cigarettes and more than 12 ounces of flavored e-liquid will be presumed to have the intent to sell.
Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the bill. “I think it’s right to act very quickly -- I commend the Council,” he said during a Monday interview on NY1, an all-news cable channel. “We see very serious health problems here.”
The Council tabled efforts to also ban menthol cigarettes, Johnson said, out of concerns that an illegal market could spring up, particularly among African Americans, and lead to a police encounter escalating into violence. Those circumstances roiled the city in 2014, when Eric Garner, a Staten Island man selling loose cigarettes, died after an arresting officer subdued him using a choke-hold.
Vaping supporters condemned the action.
“All the New York City Council did today was make it harder for adult smokers to quit, shut down small businesses, and create a new black market that will inevitably lead to constitutional violations by the New York City Police Department,” said Gregory Conley, whose website identifies him as president of the American Vaping Association. “Prohibition failed for alcohol and marijuana, and it will be equally disastrous for America’s most-used quit-smoking tool.”
The law won’t necessarily prevent children from obtaining flavored vapes outside the city’s borders, said Councilman Mark Levine, a Manhattan Democrat. State law already prohibits people under age 21 from buying vape devices and cartridges, and yet one out of 10 middle-school students are estimated to have used them in the past year, he said.
“This won’t stop every kid who’s determined to get flavored e-cigarettes from doing so, but it will make it a lot tougher,” Levine said. “How could we justify not acting in this way to protect a lot of kids with the powers that we have?”