Not since the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2003 banned smoking in bars, restaurants and other workplaces has New York state enacted such sweeping tobacco control laws as it did this year. Some of the new regulations had been proposed in the Legislature in previous years, but did not pass. This year the galvanizing factor seems to have been the epidemic of teen vaping that swept through schools statewide, leaving teachers, administrators, parents and students all scrambling for accurate information and resources to counter and control it. With almost 30% of high school students and 40% of seniors vaping, it was too much for Legislators to ignore. Fortunately they chose to take a comprehensive approach that addresses both the teen vaping problem and all tobacco use.
These are the main components of the new regulations:
1. The most far-reaching of the new regulations is a ban on all flavored vape products and e-liquids, including menthol, which went into effect on May 18. Flavors attract young people to vaping and open the pathway to nicotine addiction without them even realizing it. Many believe they are inhaling only a harmless mist and that vaping is safe. Finding that they are becoming dependent and suffering from nicotine withdrawal takes them, too late, by surprise. The sad part is that most of these are young people who would never touch a cigarette. Without the lure of flavors, vaping will be less appealing, especially to teens.
2. A separate but related regulation restricts shipping and delivery of vape products only to licensed manufacturers or retailers; shipping to private residences is now prohibited. This reduces youth access to vape products by stopping online sales, which have been used to bypass age of sale restrictions.
3. Pharmacies are now prohibited from selling all tobacco and vape products. This includes stores that contain a pharmacy, such as supermarkets and Walmart. Community surveys we have done over the years with Siena Research have consistently shown that by a wide margin (80% in both counties on our 2019 survey), people do not think pharmacies should sell tobacco. 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. This ban also levels the playing field for independent pharmacies, none of which in Greene County sell tobacco (there are no independent pharmacies in Columbia) and the chain pharmacies and supermarkets. Now everyone has to play by the same rules.
4. As of July 1, tobacco and vape retailers are no longer allowed to redeem coupons or to offer multi-pack or other discounts. These price promotions are used to appeal to cost-conscious customers, especially low-income users and young people, and to offset state excise taxes. The state tax on cigarettes, for example, is $4.35 a pack. Taxes as high as 20% were imposed on e-liquids in 2019.
5. Stores within 1,500 feet of a school (or 500 feet in NYC) are now prohibited from placing tobacco and vape products, smoking paraphernalia, and advertising for any of these products in exterior windows or storefronts.
6. Penalties are increased for selling tobacco and vape products to those under age 21. For a first violation, the maximum fine is now $1,500; subsequent fines can be up to $2,500.
Over time, policies like these work by subtly influencing individual attitudes, behavior and personal choice. For example, when the Clean Indoor Air Law was passed in 2003, the adult smoking rate in New York was almost 23%. Within 3 years, it was down to 18%. It turns out that when people were forced to go leave the building to smoke, thereby adding time and effort, a great many of them decided it wasn’t worth it. In fact, measures that make tobacco use more expensive and less convenient and make tobacco and vape products less visible, accessible and appealing are effective in motivating users to quit and in preventing youth from starting. This package of new regulation covers all those bases. It’s a big win for public health.
The Healthcare Consortium is a local charitable organization with a mission of improving access to healthcare and supporting the health and well-being of the residents in our rural community. The agency is located at 325 Columbia St. in Hudson. For more information: visit www.columbiahealthnet.org or call 518-822-8820.