ALBANY — Changes in tobacco and vaping policies were included in the 2021 budget passed by the state April 3.
Among the most significant changes were policies local anti-tobacco advocates have been battling against for some time — the sale of flavored vaping products and the sale of tobacco products of any kind by pharmacies.
Flavored vapor products will be banned statewide May 18, along with ending online sales delivered to private residences. Selling tobacco products in pharmacies will be prohibited effective July 1.
“This year’s priority was getting the ban on flavored e-cigarettes because we know that those flavors attract young people to vaping and open the pathway to nicotine addiction without them even realizing it,” said Karen dePeyster from Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties. “The problem has gotten so bad that 40% of high school seniors report using vape products, and the sad part is that most of these are young people who would never touch a cigarette. The flavor ban will take away a lot of the appeal of e-cigarettes and we expect the numbers using vape products to decrease.”
Claire Parde, executive director of The Healthcare Consortium of Columbia and Greene Counties, said the policy changes will “significantly improve overall health” in the Twin Counties.
“Flavored e-cigarettes were a shameless and unscrupulous way of appealing to youth — what the tobacco industry refers to as ‘replacements’ — and the ban should have the intended effect of reducing new use of e-cigarettes among the young and the addiction to nicotine that follows. Not only is this good public-health policy, it also makes economic sense because the health care system and the taxpayers who support it will avoid the high costs associated with numerous, serious tobacco-related illnesses.”
But the legislation is criticized by those seeking a nicotine alternative to smoking, which they say poses a far more serious danger to public health, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Taking vapor products, which are safer nicotine alternatives, from people who smoke or switched from smoking is a bad and irresponsible decision, especially at a time now when people are dying from a severe respiratory disease that is made worse by the underlying diseases that are attributed to smoking,” said Alex Clark, CEO of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association.
Smoking-related illnesses such as COPD, asthma and chronic bronchitis can lead to more severe cases of COVID-19, but vaping does not, and taking that option away from some vapor product users can send them back to smoking, Clark said.
“We know from states like Massachusetts, which banned vapor products during the lung-injury scare, that some people went back to smoking,” Clark added.
The lung injuries that occurred several months ago were not the result of vaping, Clark said, but rather an additive, vitamin E acetate, that was added to some THC vaping products.
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, is in favor of the ban on flavored vaping products.
“Disguising harmful chemicals with candy-like flavors that appeal to young people is unconscionable and a terrible disservice to our children and families,” Barrett said. “Readily accessible and candy-like packaging of tobacco products make it far too easy for kids to become addicted to nicotine and put them in danger of numerous health risks down the road.”
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, said flavored vaping products lure children in and agreed they should be banned.
“E-cigarettes, vaporizers and related products are being marketed towards our youth using very devious marketing ploys,” Tague said.
Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties has been pushing for a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies for years. A 2019 Siena Research poll showed that 80% of respondents in the Twin Counties do not believe tobacco sales should be allowed in pharmacies, dePeyster said.
“People just instinctively know that you should not be able to purchase cancer-causing products at the front of the store and medicine to treat cancer in the back of the store,” she said.
Parde called the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies a “long-standing contradiction.”
“It just stands to reason that stores devoted to the health and well-being of their customers should not sell products that undermine health,” Parde said.
Other tobacco policy changes enacted in the state’s 2021 budget include restricting the use of discounts for tobacco products, increasing oversight of vapor products throughout the distribution chain, prohibiting the display of tobacco products and their advertising near schools, and increasing retailer penalties for tobacco sales violations.