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Albany County Legislature Again Considers Ban On Flavored Tobacco And Vaping Products

The Albany County Legislature held a hearing and a procedural vote Monday on a controversial local law that would ban flavored tobacco products.

Credit Albany County Legislature
Paul Miller (D) (WFP) Albany County Legislative District 32

Local Law E would ban flavored vapor and the smokeless variety delivered through a USB-charged electronic device.  Democrat Paul Miller the 32nd district in Guilderkand is the bill’s prime sponsor:   "It's to reduce the use of vaping and flavored tobacco products, particularly among youth. There's been an explosion in vaping among the youth in the area and we want to stop that."

A coalition of child advocacy groups support Local Law E, arguing that more than 80 percent of kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product.  The American Lung Association's Director of Advocacy spoke out against vaping during the hearing. Elizabeth Hamlin says although some smokers take up vaping  as a tool to break their addiction to cigarettes:  "The Lung Association does not support the use of electronic cigarettes, no matter what your age. The American Lung Association strongly supports Local Law E and the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace. We have been calling for such action since 2011. Menthol cigarettes offer no public health benefit. They increase the likelihood of addiction and degree of addiction in smokers, menthol cigarettes do not affect everyone equally. The American Lung Association fully supports the restriction of all flavored tobacco products. This includes menthol tobacco and the over 7,000 flavors of electronic cigarettes. By now we've all heard that vaping has been declared a 'youth epidemic.'"

Advocates cite flavors as one of the top reasons why children start using e-cigarettes and argue that e-cigs can lead to lung disease. Julie Hart is Senior New York Government Relations Director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.   "The bottom line is that flavors entice kids and tobacco and vaping companies, they're hooking kids with flavor, flavors like 'fruity pebbles,' 'unicorn poop.' It's pretty crazy and it's pretty shameless."

Hart backs up her contention with just-released New York State Department of Health data:   "The state smoking rate for adults unfortunately has not significantly decreased since 2014. So when we hear the claims from some companies that 'you know what, adults need flavors to quit,’ that argument just doesn't hold water. The data isn't showing that at all."

Albany resident Tammy Miller also spoke at the hearing:   "I started smoking at a young age, menthol cigarettes, and also I developed lung cancer. But I'm still in the process of going through treatment and I would like to be around to help out with the others about the flavored cigarettes due to the fact that I am a grandmother and I would love to help other advocates."

WAMC reached out to JUUL, a top electronic cigarette companies. JUUL emailed back a statement:  "To help adult smokers switch, we believe that tobacco and menthol based JUULpods should be sold in traditional retail stores alongside tobacco and menthol based combustible cigarettes. To ensure youth cannot access these products even in stores, we strongly advocate for Tobacco 21 laws and strengthened our retailer compliance program with over 2,000 secret shopper visits per month.”

Flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products on the shelves of a Stewart's store in Latham.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products can be found on the shelves of a Stewart's Store in Latham.

JUUL markets four non-tobacco and non-menthol-based flavors: Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber.

In mid-July, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation raising the purchase age statewide from 18 to 21 for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping products.  After retailers argued businesses would suffer as customers would flock to neighboring counties for their tobacco needs, the Legislature tabled Local Law E in July.  New York Association of Convenience Stores President Jim Calvin:    "We estimate that the impact on convenience stores in Albany County would be in the range of $50 million a year. And if we lose $50 million a year in legitimate sales, that means Albany County's gonna lose $2 million a year in sales tax on those sales, so the impact is significant."

Legislators have now decided to re-visit the proposed law in September or November. If Local Law E is approved, Albany County will become the first in the state to ban sales of flavored vapor products and smokeless tobacco products, as well as flavored cigars, pipe tobacco and cigarettes.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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