Locals condemn vape shop

In Bellmore, a chorus of calls to limit e-cigarettes

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When residents noticed a colorful “Smoke and Vape Shop” sign on a previously vacant storefront on Merrick Road, they jumped into action. Only days after their protests flooded social media, the shop’s owner agreed to stop selling vaping products altogether. The move came amid calls from the Trump administration, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Town of Hempstead to ban vaping devices and e-liquids.

“I consider it a win,” said Eileen Casazza, leader of the Bellmore Preservation Group. “It [was] suggested to [the owner] that this type of retailer is frowned upon in Bellmore.”

More than a dozen residents aired their grievances in the comments of a Facebook post dated Sept. 10, one writing, “Are there really enough people using these to justify the five [vape stores] we have already?”

By Sept. 13, an agreement was reached to keep vaping products out of the shop.

“This evening we were contacted by ownership: The tenant will not be selling vape products; they all have been removed from the store,” read a post by the South Bellmore Civic Association. “The civic will reach out to the tenant over the weekend [to] brainstorm products and themes that would do well in our community.”

Her concern, Casazza said, is with teenagers. Vaping products — which are sold in a variety of appealing flavors — “attract younger people.” For her own kids, ages 20, 17 and 15, “They know the hardest thing I ever had to do was quit smoking,” she said. “It has no value.”

Recently, bans on the sales of vaping devices or e-liquids have been proposed on the federal, state and local levels following a string of mysterious lung illnesses and deaths nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been nearly 400 cases of vaping-related illnesses reported nationwide, and possibly six deaths. Teenagers and young adults have come down with many of the illnesses, according to The New York Times.

In a news conference at the White House on Sept. 11, Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, told reporters, “What we’ve seen has been . . . a huge spiking of children’s utilization of mint and menthol e-cigarettes” — suggesting that banning only sweet, fruity flavors is not enough, according to a Sept. 11 article in the Times.

Azar also said that the Food and Drug Administration would create a plan in the coming weeks to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and “nicotine pods,” excluding tobacco flavors, according to the article. This ban would include mint and menthol flavors.

Meanwhile, in Albany on Sept. 15, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an emergency executive action to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York state. The measure follows legislation that changed the legal purchasing age for tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. It goes into effect on Nov. 13.

Cuomo directed state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to hold an emergency meeting with the Public Health and Health Planning Council on Tuesday to vote on adopting an emergency regulation to ban flavored e-cigarettes — with the exclusion of tobacco and menthol flavors.

The ban will go into effect immediately, giving retailers two weeks — until Oct. 4 — to remove the products from their shelves.

According to a representative of Cuomo’s office, the governor will formally present a law to permanently ban the products by January 2020. “New York is confronting this crisis head-on,” Cuomo said. “Today we are taking another nation-leading step to combat a public health emergency.”

The State Police and the Department of Health will also partner to ramp up enforcement against retailers who sell to minors. The effort is expected to include undercover investigations across the state. According to Cuomo, any retailers that have sold tobacco or vape products to teenagers will face criminal and civil penalties.

“E-cigarettes have been implicated as a key indicator in the upward trend of the use of tobacco products among youths in recent years,” Zucker said. “These regulations will help curb this dangerous trend, and will further safeguard the health of all New Yorkers, especially among underage youths.”

New York is poised to follow in the footsteps of Michigan, which became the first state to prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes earlier this month. A similar ban was also approved in San Francisco earlier this year.

Town of Hempstead officials called for a ban on the sale of flavored e-liquids at a Town Board meeting on Sept. 3. If enacted, the local law would take effect Jan. 1, and the town would become one of the first municipalities in the state to prohibit the sale of flavored e-liquids.

“America’s largest township is fighting against an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers that threatens the decades-long progress our communities have made in reducing youth addiction to smoking,” Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said in a statement.

“We must act immediately to protect the health of our kids from the numerous and often unknown dangers associated with these highly addictive products being used by teens in record numbers,” Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said.

Town officials also noted that the regulation of vaping devices by the Food and Drug Administration would not be completed until 2020.

“The long- and short-term health risks are still not fully known,” Town Medical Director David Neubert said, “but recent incidents have indicated that serious and permanent lung damage may occur.”

“Passing this flavor ban is essential to slowing the skyrocketing youth vaping epidemic, the most serious adolescent health crisis our country has faced in decades,” said Dorian Fuhrman and Meredith Burkman, members of Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes.

Council members voted to schedule a public hearing on the matter on Sept. 24.

Have an opinion on the proposed vape bans? Email your letter to the editor to Bellmore/Merrick Editor Alyssa Seidman at aseidman@liherald.com.