PIX11 Exclusive: Go inside Nassau County’s vape ‘buy and bust’ operation

New York the legal age is 19. New Jersey is 21.

“Looks like they made a buy,” the undercover cop says into his radio to officers in another car. We’re all moving out of the car. They’re cinching up their bulletproof vests. The camera strapped to his chest is rolling. And now the team of narcotics and vice cops makes entry into a classic Roosevelt, Long Island store front in a strip mall on a busy road.

“Sir, i need you to come out from behind the counter, and i need to see your hands.”

It goes down much like a drug raid. except these officers have just used underage decoys to try to buy juuls without showing I.D.

In Nassau County, the age to buy is 21. New York statewide it’s 19, but many counties choose to bump that up as vaping is an epidemic across the nation. Where anti-smoking campaigns have steadily been killing the combustible cigarette business, vapes have come in to fill the gap. Smoking is still the number one cause of preventible death: 500,000 Americans a year die from cancers caused by lighting up.

The Nassau County Vice and Narcotics Unit has been working these raids for about six months, since the tougher laws went into effect.

They bust and ticket sellers, who have to go to court and pay $500 or more per fine when selling without seeing identification to prove a buyer is 21 or over.

The undercover detective is explaining why the clerk is being busted. "You sold juul pods to someone under 21. did you check I.D.?” Our clerk shakes his head no. “I asked her if she was 21 and she said yes and i believed her,” he offers by weak way of an excuse.

Two out of three smoke shops failed. A second clerk insisted he never sells cigarettes or cigars to kids under 21. “I didn’t know about the vape.” 21 as the legal age to sell is printed on a sign right next to his own cash register.

The three young women under 21 all are students part of the Nassau County Police Explorer Program. They’ve been trained to work with detectives to act as decoys in these buy and bust operations. “I was actually surprised how easy it was. They just handed it to us,” one of the students says when we debrief.

A detective offers even more. “They're claiming ignorance. But it's posted right on the products they have. They're just trying to get away with it.”

This program comes from the top. Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder is a passionate law enforcer and father. "I got 40 to 50 percent of my middle school kids vaping in schools. It doesn’t’ make any sense."

His main reason to go after this? He sees the easy crossover to illegal drugs, like marijuana. “The kids take a vape pipe and they take THC oil. It’s 80 to 90 percent pure. One hit off a vape pipe is like smoking an entire joint. You’re stoned for the next eight hours.”

Research shows the majority of smokers get addicted before age 21 and then have a hard time quitting. Nassau County trying to snuff out teen vaping with enforcement, making sure smoke shops follow these new tougher standards.

Since juuling or vaping is newer to the marketplace, there are no long term studies. But there are studies that show teen brains get addicted more easily than adult brains.

According to the surgeon general this can pave the way to addiction to other illegal drugs, like cocaine. The National Institutes of Health found smoking during adolescence increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment in later life.

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