The Staten Island Advance today published an op-ed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and State Senator Diane Savino urging New York State to take action to combat the vaping epidemic among our youth.
The text of the op-ed is available below and can be viewed online here.
Teen vaping has become a national epidemic. For the first time in decades, nicotine addiction is back on the rise, even as cigarette sales have declined. This has mobilized an all-hands-on-deck effort among state and local governments to take appropriate action to protect the health of young adults.
This did not happen by accident. As vaporizers and electronic cigarettes flooded the market, manufacturers have targeted youth with flavored nicotine cartridges all wrapped in colorful packaging that professes vaping to be both attractive and glamorous. They’ve also been able to access these devices easily, as many local convenience stores and other retailers flaunt the law and sell them to young people.
The result? Students are vaping in schools, parks and bathrooms, with devices that are easily concealed to resemble USB drives or pens. Our teens do not recognize the inherent dangers that these devices present and this is in no small part because of the messaging that has been put out there that suggest these devices are safe.
We have heard directly from parents, teachers, administrators and health professionals about the dramatic increase in use among our youth and the major health risk it poses. In fact, e-cigarette use among high school students spiked 900 percent between 2011 and 2015. The number of high school students who vape has more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, and this sudden surge has even prompted the U.S. surgeon general to call for action.
Our children are facing a serious risk of becoming addicted to nicotine. We know that nicotine can harm the developing brain, which is not fully developed until the age of 25, and may even increase risk for addiction to other drugs.
In an effort to reverse this trend, Suffolk County has undertaken a number of measures to educate teens and families, and to prevent and enforce the illegal sales of e-cigarettes to minors. And at the state level, we’re starting to do the same with the introduction of legislation to increase the statewide minimum age to 21 for purchasing tobacco products.
Statewide, we should look at the multi-pronged approach that places like Suffolk County have taken. The approach includes the support of the police department, which has to perform a number of sting operations, and the health department, which educates parents, students, and teachers about the dangers of e-cigarettes.
Especially in places like Staten Island and Brooklyn, enforcement is crucial. We have heard from parents and educators just how easy it is for a young person to walk into a bodega or 7-Eleven and purchase these kinds of products without any questions asked.
Suffolk County has had a great deal of success in deterring retailers from selling these products to minors, including legislation to strengthen penalties on tobacco retailers who are charged with unlawfully selling nicotine products to those under 21 years of age. The county also rolled out a comprehensive vaping prevention program in partnership with local schools called “Vape Out,” to help schools deal with students using e-cigarettes on campus.
And while we tackle this issue on the local level, we have an ally in Governor Cuomo as he continues to be a champion statewide by supporting proposals to raise the minimum age of tobacco sales across the state to 21 -- as it is in Suffolk -- ending the sale of tobacco and electronic cigarette products in pharmacies, and providing the New York State Department of Health the authority to ban the sale of certain flavored liquids that target youth.
Diane Savino is a state senator representing the 23rd Senate District and Steve Bellone is the county executive of Suffolk County, New York.