Norwichtown Shell warns of health risks of e-cigarettes
Norwich — New signs now hang in the windows of the Norwichtown Shell Food Mart warning customers that vaping and smoking are “injurious to health” and that the minimum age to purchase the products will rise to 21 starting Oct. 1.
Norwichtown Shell station owner Swaranjit Singh Khalsa wanted to do more to raise awareness about health issues, especially the recent lung illnesses that have afflicted more than 450 people nationwide associated with vaping products in recent months.
On Tuesday, the sixth death nationwide linked to vaping occurred in Kansas. In Connecticut, the state Department of Public Health reported that as of Sept. 6, five residents had been hospitalized and released with serious lung illness linked to vaping.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health on its website said in a statement posted Sept. 6 that patients with the illness experienced symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. "All patients reported using e-cigarette or vapor products and many patients reported using products that contain cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The investigation has not yet identified any single substance or product that is linked to all cases."
On Wednesday, Khalsa invited United Community and Family Services to set up a table in front of the store entrance to offer information on vaping and UCFS services to customers, along with incentives such as giveaways and coupons for use in the store and accompanying car wash. For four hours Wednesday, UCFS marketing associate Sarah Zawisza greeted customers and handed out pamphlets, including one titled “10 Reasons why you should not vape!”
Khalsa said he did not stop selling tobacco and vaping products, because the gas station-convenience store is expected to carry the products other similar businesses offer. “If I didn’t, they would just go next door,” he said. But he said he would support a state law or even city ordinance to ban e-cigarette products, and he will aggressively enforce the new state law that raises the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 starting Oct. 1.
Separately on Wednesday, President Donald Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will work on a plan in the next few weeks to ban most flavored e-cigarettes in response to data showing a sharp rise in youth use of the devices.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., issued a statement that the White House announcement did not go far enough and was too vague.
“FDA’s dithering continues to endanger and damage our kids,” Blumenthal said in the statement. “The vague allusions to action are more delusion from a failing agency. Only bold, decisive action — a long overdue ban on flavors and deceptive, slick pitches out of Big Tobacco’s playbook will help end the vaping epidemic.”
Khalsa said he welcomed Connecticut’s move to raise the age for tobacco and vaping products to 21. He estimated five to 10 customers between the ages of 18 and 20 come in per day to buy tobacco or vaping products. E-cigarettes, at $10 for Juul brand flavored products, are cheaper than traditional cigarettes, he said, which is one of the attractions.
Khalsa timed the start of the store’s awareness campaign with September’s designation as National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, but the window signs, including one giving the problem gambling helpline number, will be permanent.
In Norwich, Khalsa has proposed that the city create smoke-free zones in city parks, including during the weekly summer Rock the Docks concerts at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor. The City Council’s Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee is expected to discuss the request at its meeting at 8 a.m. Monday at Public Works headquarters.