By Ryan Hallisey
Another week, another flavor ban, but a different result. Suffolk County, New York held a hearing on a proposed bill of limiting of e-liquid flavors to menthol, mint, and tobacco. It would not have effected 0mg, but as Greg Conley pointed out to the surprise of the legislators, there was no law prohibiting the purchases of 0mg e-liquid to minors. The bill ended up being tabled for a later date. This is a win, for now, but how did the vape community win?
The vape community won because of its support. This hearing set records for attendance and amount of speakers, 79 speakers to be exact. Although the record attendance was helped by school buses dropping off high school students, some of whom ended up speaking during the hearing, the majority of speakers were in opposition.
The hearing got off to a heated start with protestors out front with signs saying “#choosekidsfirst" engaging with those opposing the bill wearing pins with the slogan “Flavors save lives.” Once inside, the tension could be cut with a butter knife, but the speakers and audience all acted respectfully.
The hearing had it’s typical talking points from the anti-vape crowd, including nicotine’s effects on the adolescent brain, flavors enticing kids, and popcorn lung. The business owners spoke on the economic impact that the flavor ban would have which was inevitable closure. Vapers spoke about how flavors helped them quit, including Mr. Jack Case, a 79-year-old vaper who stopped smoking due to the availability of flavor options after being diagnosed with COPD. Jack stole the show at the hearing with his testimony when he urged the legislators not to take away flavors and force him back to smoking, which would inevitably cause his premature death.
Another highlight of the hearing was Brian from Paper Street Vape Shop. Brian spoke of his shop and how he recently put a down payment on a house in the county. He highlighted that 95% of his e-liquid sales were flavored, spoke of precautions in carding potential customers, but what stood out was when he was pressed on flavors being enticing to kids. When Brian was asked about whether certain flavors, such as cotton candy, were specifically intended to target children, he responded with poise, commenting that a flavor’s “description” is subjective, not objective. He urged legislators to table the motion and work with vape shop owners, including ideas such as limiting flavors to adult-only stores. He finished that policy needs to be addressed, not a ban.
What may have been the most damning, possibly unintentional, counter-argument to the bill was made by high school student speakers, when they said, “most of the kids do it for the nicotine buzz.”
However, all of this back and forth really led us to one conclusion that was apparent when the legislators paraded out e-liquid bottles such a Cinnaroo and Roll-upz. Now, why would they parade those bottles out? Their marketing and child-friendly labels. This point was raised by a few in opposition that if the bill wants to address the marketing of the flavors and placing limitations, so be it, but do not ban flavors outright. The point has been made by the Dr. Scott Gottlieb of the FDA and by recent tweets by the Surgeon General Jerome Adams. It once again was brought to the light during this hearing. It is painfully evident that flavors are being confused as the issue when in actuality, it is the product's labeling, and in turn legislation is being written to ban flavors. In every one of these hearings regarding flavors, legislators hold up your typical culprits of terrible labels expressing how flavors are the problem. But what they are showing us all is that labels are the problem. This point was highlighted by Brian’s testimony when he defended that any given flavor isn’t specifically targeted towards children as that is a subjective matter, not an objective one, but a flavor absolutely can be marketed as such.
I believe the legislators in Suffolk County realized that the flavors helped smokers quit with testimonies such as Mr. Jack Grace’s. I think they also realized that vape shops are not choosing profits over children as the mom’s so vehemently screamed out front, but are willing to help legislators help reduce teen access. In turn, the legislators made the right choice tabling this bill as they look to other options reducing teen access, instead of dooming business owners to their demise just 12 days before Christmas. It also highlighted the fact that a flavor in itself is not a children-specific flavor, but its marketing can be. This has been compounded by letters sent out to certain manufacturers regarding their labels. If we want to fight for our right to maintain flavors, then we need to stop giving legislators the ammunition to propose legislation. Yesterday proved once again, that kid-friendly labels do this industry no good, but that legislators are learning the impact flavors are having on smoker’s finally quitting and are willing to listen.
Simply put, shops stop carrying the brands that market to children. Why? When you invite a legislator to your shop as many of the shop owners did yesterday, you will be doing more harm than good when those same legislators see specific labels in your store. Manufacturers, clean up your act. The shops will stop purchasing kid-friendly labels when you stop producing them.