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Local stores sound off on looming e-cigarette legislation

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CANTON - Local stores are caught up in the national debate over e-cigarettes that has left the future of a booming industry in question, as sales continue to grow and legislators struggle to keep up.

“It’s the Wild West of nicotine right now,” said Eric R. Kreizman, owner of ERK Vapor, formerly Gourmet Vapor, Potsdam.

Governments have been caught off guard by e-cigarettes’ rapid recent rise in popularity. The devices do not fit neatly into any existing laws, leaving manufacturers and sellers free to make whatever they want and sell it with little to no oversight.

Legislators are taking notice. In December, New York City subjected e-cigarettes to all of the same restrictions as regular tobacco products, meaning they no longer can be used indoors in a public place. Closer to home, SUNY Potsdam instituted similar restrictions on its campus in January.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is researching the issue and is expected to announce further regulations soon.

So far the FDA has had little official to say on the matter. A brief page on its website outlines its plans for eventual regulation and gives a warning that the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes have not been studied.

E-cigarettes use a tiny heater to vaporize a refillable liquid solution, which usually includes nicotine and often includes tobacco flavoring. The device creates a smoke-like vapor without the smell or most of the carcinogenic chemicals often associated with regular cigarettes.

Although e-cigarettes are generally seen as a safer alternative to their traditional counterpart, lacking many of the chemicals that make smoking harmful, the lack of research has FDA officials worried.

The FDA’s page on e-cigarettes can be found at http://wdt.me/uyGagZ.

For now, Mr. Kreizman is optimistic about the future of the industry. He sees the growing acceptance of e-cigarettes as a trend that won’t be stopped. Regulations are inevitable, he said, and when they come, he will comply.

Michael M. Frennier is the general manager of Unique Cigs, a chain of electronic cigarette stores with branches in Watertown and Malone. He said he doubts the location-based bans like the one in New York City will catch on elsewhere as more people grow to accept the use of e-cigarettes.

Other regulations, according to Mr. Frennier, might actually help level the playing field for ethical companies.

“We’re kind of looking forward to some regulation coming into place,” he said.

He said he hopes the FDA will create a standard for the liquid solution used in e-cigarettes. Both Unique Cigs and ERK Vapor make their own juice with just a few ingredients, but some companies include undisclosed chemicals in their mix, Mr. Frennier said.

He said he also would support regulations banning the advertising or sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Many of Unique Cigs’ juices come in flavors such as tropical peach or pumpkin spice, a strategy shared by many companies and criticized by those who say the sweet flavors could tempt children to use e-cigarettes.

Mr. Frennier argues that banning certain flavors is not the answer and advocates tighter control on who can buy the products.

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