Why Are New Yorkers Getting Carded to Buy Whipped Cream?

The state passed an age restriction on the sale of whippits last year, leading to a misinterpretation of the new law by some stores.

A child sprays whipped cream
Photo: JGI / Jamie Grill / Blend Images / Getty Images

A New York State law intended to prevent teenagers from abusing nitrous oxide by restricting the sale of whipped cream chargers has turned into a mess — and not the whipped cream-based British dessert. The legislation began making headlines last week after grocery shoppers complained about being carded simply for buying canned whipped cream. And now, the state senator behind the law has spoken out to say it's being incorrectly enforced: People of all ages should still be allowed to buy whipped cream.

The law — which bans the sale of, specifically, "whipped cream chargers" to anyone under the age of 21 — was originally proposed by State Senator Joseph Addabbo in an attempt to, as he described it back in October, "limit the access and sale of whippits." These chargers, which are replaceable devices for whipped cream dispensers, contain nitrous oxide — also known as "laughing gas" — which can be inhaled for a short-term high and are often abused.

"Used whippits piling up in our communities are not only an eyesore, but also indicative of a significant nitrous oxide abuse problem," Addabbo said at the time, announcing the passage of the legislation. "This law will help to protect our youth from the dangers of this lethal chemical, while helping to clean up our neighborhoods."

The law took effect on November 25 of last year, but didn't seem to be enforced out of the gate. "I think that there is some sort of reporting mechanism that just didn't go the way it was supposed to," Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, recently told the Times Union. As a result, Sopris told the paper he only informed members they should begin enforcing the law about two months ago.

But over the past month, something odd began to happen: Reports emerged of shoppers getting carded simply for buying whipped cream. Back on August 10, Albany's News10 posted an article asking, "Did you know you have to be 21 to buy whipped cream cans in NYS?" By last week, the growing story had reached a tipping point, with news of New York's "whipped cream ban" landing on local, national, and even international news outlets.

"I thought: 'What is going on?' I was looking in my cart. What am I being ID'd for? I was so confused," Meghan Massey, a woman shopping in Watertown, told NBC News. "I was mortified. Why am I being ID'd? What is going on right now? I'm 43 with gray hair."

Similarly, WRGB Albany reported on a handwritten sign in a Stewart's Shops proclaiming, "Did you know? Effective 8/12/22 we will be IDing for whipped cream! Must be 21 years old!"

But just as the start date of the new law apparently wasn't clearly communicated, the rules of its enforcement were also misinterpreted. Though canned whipped cream does contain nitrous oxide, the ban was only intended for the replaceable charger cartridges which are sold independently of the dessert topping.

Reached for comment, Addabbo told me that he'd spoken to New York's Attorney General and they were in agreement that the law only applies to the chargers. "Think of how the law was intended," the state senator said. "It started with a constituent complaint." And not a complaint about over-consumption of whipped cream.

"My bill is not intended to prevent people under the age of 21 from buying whipped cream dispensers, but the small, individual charger or cartridge inside the whipped cream canisters," Addabbo posted yesterday on Twitter He then points to the language of the law, which indeed states, "the term 'whipped cream charger' shall mean a steel cylinder or cartridge filled with nitrous oxide (N2O)."

As a result, one would hope that the sale of whipped cream to under-21s in New York State will be reinstated, as it were, over the coming days as this discrepancy is sorted out. "If stores choose to continue to card for whipped cream," Addabbo clarified, "that's on them."

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