You can’t walk through New York City without being overwhelmed by the smell of cannabis as thousands of unlicensed smoke shops spread like poisonous weeds.
Mayor Adams has spoken out about this scourge — along with the increasing number of high school students who come to school high, having purchased marijuana from shops masquerading as “convenience stores.”
But no one is outraged that these same stores, and many others, are also illegally selling unregulated, flavored e-cigarettes containing highly-addictive nicotine that aren’t only harmful to kids but have been illegal in New York for years. How is this possible?
NYC prohibited all flavored e-cigarette products in 2019 (New York State followed in 2020).
We know this because our families testified before the New York City Council in support of this legislation and, with our public health partners, helped pass local Law 228 of 2019.
Our story began a year earlier when we discovered that e-cigarette company JUUL sent a representative into our then-teen sons’ private high school on New York’s Upper East Side.
Using an outside anti-addiction group — and without the school’s knowledge — JUUL told an assembly of 9th graders its products were “totally safe.”
After the talk, the supposed educator took out his JUUL, showed our boys how it worked, and called it the “iPhone of vapes.”
As we, and our third co-founder Dina Alessi, began researching JUUL, we were shocked not only by the company’s predatory behavior — its use of flavors, youthful influencers, and social-media marketing — but also by the huge scope of the problem.
This led us to create our education and advocacy nonprofit Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes (PAVe) in September 2018. It would be another six months before the U.S. Surgeon General and the FDA declared a “Youth Vaping Epidemic.”
Over the following years, hundreds of other companies have sadly followed in JUUL’s footsteps and developed flavored nicotine e-cigarettes targeted at young people. Which is why this adolescent public-health emergency continues.
Nicotine can impact the mental health of our children and affect the developing brain, causing cognitive change and further addiction.There’s also a link between youth nicotine use and depression, anxiety, and impulse control.
Today, more than 2.5 million U.S. children regularly vape, and according to CDC 2022 data, 1 out of 5 high schoolers and 1 out of 10 middle schoolers are vaping at school. The new 2023 CDC National Youth Tobacco Survey data should be released in the coming weeks, and we fear these numbers will have risen even further.
Meanwhile, cheap disposable vapes are pouring into the U.S. from China with brands Elf Bar (currently the most popular) containing unknown chemicals and toxins, even greater amounts of nicotine, and, in rare cases, even fentanyl.
The cruelest irony is that last year China banned domestic sales of all flavored e-cigarettes to protect Chinese children from nicotine addiction.
As Chinese companies continue exploiting our federal delays, enforcement failures, and loopholes, we wonder: Who’s protecting America’s kids?
Parents must learn to identify the latest products; recognize signs of nicotine addiction; and talk to their kids about vaping, early and often. We offer resources online to guide parents.
The Mayor recently announced that the city is suing several major vape distributors, a landmark legal move for which we are grateful. But much more needs to be done to beat back the bad actors selling such dangerous products to New York City kids.
With the support of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, we recently launched POISON (Parents Opposing Illegal Sales of Nicotine), a program that allows volunteers to report retailers selling illegal flavored nicotine products in their own communities. Hopefully, with more funding, we can expand POISON throughout the city and, eventually, nationwide.
It’s time to take action against those who blatantly break the law. Mayor Adams, NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda, and the NYC DOHMH must continue to enhance their anti-vaping enforcement efforts, while seizing and disposing of illegal products (no easy feat given the environmental harm caused by single-use plastic vapes and their lithium-ion batteries… but that’s another story).
The city must make vaping a civic priority – and protect the health of NYC’s greatest asset, its young people.
Dorian Fuhrman & Meredith Berkman are co-founders and full-time volunteers of Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes.