GLENS FALLS — Matthew Cowles credits flavored e-cigarette liquids with saving his life.
After smoking cigarettes from age 12 to 32, he was able to quit because of vaping.
He now runs a vaping store, Plenty O’Vapes, on South Street in Glens Falls. There are eight stores in the area.
He went to New York City Tuesday to testify in front of a state committee regarding vaping and urged officials not to ban flavored liquids.
Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to introduce legislation to ban flavored vapes, in an effort to discourage people from smoking e-cigarettes.
But Cowles and other local smokers say Cuomo is making a mistake.
Cowles tried to quit but couldn’t stay away from cigarettes until he started vaping. The flavors kept him interested.
“That was crucial to me. I liked the pastries more than the tobacco,” he said. “They help the user disassociate from the cigarettes.”
Within weeks, he said, people are disgusted when they try to smoke.
“You’re so used to having flavor that a cigarette is going to turn your stomach and make you nauseous,” he said.
He acknowledged that the flavors could be attractive to kids.
But he said teens aren’t buying the type of vapes that create big clouds, which allows you to taste the flavor. They’re usually carrying the small vapes, which are easy to hide in a pocket. Those vapes offer high levels of tobacco.
“They’re doing it for the buzz,” Cowles said. “If the kids were into flavor, they’d be vaping for cloud.”
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He thinks vaping should be allowed, for adults, as a way to stop smoking cigarettes.
“Vapes are harm reduction. It’s helping people get off of the 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes,” he said.
He noted that if vaping could save just 1% of the lives that would otherwise be lost to smoking worldwide, it would add up to hundreds of thousands of people.
At Tobacco World in Gansevoort, owner Joe Ilardi tells customers not to buy vaping liquids if they are not smokers.
“It’s not full of vitamins,” he said. “But it’s 100 times better than cigarettes.”
He pushes vaping for anyone who buys his tobacco products.
“I sell a bunch of bag tobacco and I always try to get them into vaping,” he said. “Everyone says, ‘I can breathe better, I can smell better, I can walk up a flight of stairs without getting tired.’”
But vaping is also advertised as harmless “water vapor,” with flavors that seem designed to attract children, such as bubblegum.
Nearly 40% of 12th grade students and 27% of high school students in New York are now using e-cigarettes, according to the Department of Health. In 2014, 10.5% of high school students were using e-cigarettes.
The smoking rate has gone done significantly, from 27% in 2000 to 4.3% in 2016.
Vaping has been linked to a series of respiratory illnesses and some deaths. Initial investigations have suggested the deaths were from using THC in homemade vaping liquids, but Cuomo warned that the investigation is ongoing.
He directed the Department of Health to issue subpoenas to companies marketing and selling “thickening agents” used in black market vaping products and to issue emergency regulations, mandating that warning signs must be posted in all vape and smoke shops in New York so users know that making their own liquids could be deadly.
Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker agreed with Cuomo’s proposals, saying, “The current outbreak of vaping-associated illnesses and the increasing number of young people using vape products and developing lifelong addictions are two serious public health crises. I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking swift and aggressive action to crack down on those seeking to profit at the expense of people’s health.”