Two bills proposed last spring and summer by New York State Assemblyman Keith P. Brown(R,C-Northport) that would send young people caught vaping or smoking marijuana to a diversion program are stuck in committee.
The first billwould require underage teens caught vaping to attend a diversion program – the electronic cigarette and vaping prevention, awareness and control program. It will inform teens about the dangers of vaping, and they would be accompanied by their parents or guardians for the program.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.5 million youths admitted to using e-cigarettes in 2022. This includes 14.1% of high school students and3.3% of middle school students.
Along with the proposed bill, Brown has taken further steps to prevent youths on Long Islandfrom picking up vaping. He has held multiple presentations to warn teens about the dangers ofe-cigarettes, including one with Suffolk County Legislator Manuel Esteban Sr.
“It’s a shame that, we as a society and as a state, we’ve gone from lowering the numbers ofteenagers smoking tobacco products, to now seeing a rise in it,” Brown said. “For decades, wefought this and we were seeing a decline, but with the advent of vaping we’re seeing it go the other way.”
Assembly members Joe DeStefano (R,C-Medford), John Lemondes (R,C- and Ed Flood (R,C-Port Jefferson) are co-sponsors of the bill that was proposed in March.
The second bill is identical to the first one except it involves marijuana use among those younger than 21. It was proposed in June, and those who are caught would also attend diversion programs with their parents or guardians and be warned about the dangers of marijuana.
In a survey conducted by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics,12.78% of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States admitted to using marijuana in the past year.
Brown worries about the physical and mental side effects that come with smoking cannabis, specifically those that come with high-potency marijuana. He is also concerned about “dabbing,”or the smoking of cannabis extract in a wax form.
“It’s not the seeds and stems of the 1970s,” Brown said. “We’re seeing a lot of mental healthissues come out of smoking high potency weed. Dabbing is a huge problem. This is really strong with heavy THC content.”
Brown cited Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS) as something he worries about when itcomes to high-potency marijuana. CHS is a condition in which someone experiences nausea and/or vomiting as well as abdominal pain as a result of using cannabis.
The idea for the bills came from the implementation of a vaping diversion program in Half Hollow Hills School District, which students would attend instead of suspension. The program inspired Brown to propose his own as a statewide cause and to include marijuana in the
“The typical progression of teenagers: they start vaping at 14, they start vaping pot by 16, and then they’re into pills and harder drugs by the time they’re 18,” Brown said. “ … and the overdose numbers are there. Over 107,000 Americans died last year from overdoses.”
The two bills are a follow-up to legislation that Brown proposed in July of 2022, which would“require persons attend the electronic cigarette and vaping prevention, awareness and control program.” The bill died in committee.
Brown has also shown support for legislation that would crack down on cannabis use among teens and adults behind the wheel.
Brown feels as though the stigma around smoking behind the wheel should be similar to that of drinking and driving, and that the normalization of marijuana needs to change.
“I think that there’s a general feeling among teenagers that there’s nothing wrong with it,” Brown said. “Most teenagers today don’t drink and drive. They just know that it’s really dangerous. Yet, kids think it’s okay to smoke and drive.”
Since the signing of the Marijuana Regulation andTaxation Act (MRTA) in 2021, legalizing recreational use of marijuana in New York State, some feel that problems have followed. Brown is one of them.
“We argued on the floor why [MRTA] was bad, but we didn’t do anything about it,” Brown said. “I try to elicit the help and get bills across that, now that the genie’s out of the bottle, will help mitigate the impact of what legalization has caused and will cause.”
Kenneth Spurrell is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.