New York Vapers Say Flavor Ban Will Drive Them Back to Cigarettes

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    New York has joined a wave of bans on sales of flavored vape products that’s spreading across US cities and states—with the threat of a national ban to follow. On September 17, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that an emergency ban on flavors will take effect on October 4.

    While the voices of wealthy white parents concerned about youth use have been centered in the vaping debate, those of former smokers who now vape—who overwhelmingly come from marginalized populations, and most of whom used flavors to quit cigarettes—have been ignored.

    To try to redress this imbalance, I interviewed a number of vapers in New York who will be personally impacted by the flavor ban, together with a couple of small vape shop owners.

    In the original Filter video (which you can watch above or here), Louis relates how he tried over and over again to quit cigarettes, and only found success when he took up vaping menthol and mint flavors. He has now been vaping for four years. “Any life is precious,” he says. “Vaping is about saving lives.”

    Lilly describes how much she now loves vaping, and how—unlike her former smoking—it doesn’t exacerbate her partner’s asthma.

    “I feel like I’m being punished out of political expediency,” says Marilena, who quit cigarettes thanks to “Lucky Charms and Milk” flavored vapes. “There’s been this really loud corner of hysterics that are opposed to vaping … They don’t seem to have the facts but they seem to have the microphone.”

    A manufactured public panic over lung disease and a small number of deaths attributed to “vaping”⁠—in fact, the cases are linked to vaping of illicitly manufactured THC oils—has fueled the recent bans.

    Set against this, almost 500,000 Americans lose their lives for smoking-related causes every year, and a further 16 million live with smoking-related disease. Vaping is about 95 percent less harmful than smoking, and vapes are about twice as effective as nicotine patches or gum in helping smokers quit.

    In the video, an owner of a vape shop on Canal Street, who declined to be named, says that an illicit market for flavored vapes will now rapidly develop, with people bringing them in from other jurisdictions to sell in New York. This lack of regulation, as we saw with THC oils, has the potential to endanger vapers’ health.

    Vape shop owner Spike Babian points out the sheer absurdity of jumping to the conclusion that vaping regulated nicotine products caused the recent outbreak of lung disease, when people have been vaping for a decade with no previous consequences of this kind.

    Babian’s customers tell her that they’re going back to smoking due to Gov. Cuomo’s messaging on vapes. “They’re not taking away cigarettes,” she notes. “Cigarettes are staying … vapor products are going away. They obviously want people to smoke cigarettes, which is crazy.”

    Disastrous recent policy developments reflect a wildly disproportionate responses to exponentially different levels of risk. Harm reduction and marginalized populations are—as so often before—being sidelined at the cost of health justice and human lives.


    • Helen is Filter‘s senior editor and a multimedia journalist. She is on the methadone, vaping and nicotine train. Helen is also a filmmaker. Her two documentaries about methadone are Liquid Handcuffs and Swallow THIS. As an LCSW, she has worked with people who use drugs for over two decades. Helen is an adjunct assistant professor and teaches a course about the War on Drugs at NYU. She lives in Harlem.

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