An Examination of New York's Single-Use Ink Law

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When Inked first heard about the changes to New York State law that would require single-use ink to be used in tattooing we reached out to Tattoo Lou to get an insider's opinion about the effects the law would have on the tattoo industry. Upon reading Lou's take (which you can read for yourself at this link), tattoo artist and shop owner Mick Metal reached out to us and wanted to offer a differing opinion. Here is his take along with a little explanation of the law to get you up to speed. 

In August New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law that will completely change the way tattoo artists work within the state, and will likely have ramifications for artists all around the country. The law, which will go into effect in December, requires that artists use exclusively single-use needles and inks. While every reputable artist already uses single-use needles, it is the portion about the ink will greatly alter the way artists operate within the state.

Mick Metal, a tattoo artist and the owner of Revolution Tattoos in Pearl River, has been an outspoken opponent of the new law. While some may see the single-use ink requirement as a step forward in trying to make the industry safer Metal strongly disagrees.

"This is not the wave of a future but a wasteful, expensive set back for tattoo artists," Metal explains. "It is simply a misguided bill that is unnecessary if tattoo artists follow Blood Borne Pathogen protocol."

First, a brief explanation of how tattoo ink is handled for those not within the industry. Prior to a tattoo session the ink is poured from a large bottle into a disposable ink cap. This is done before the tattoo has begun and is not done with dirty gloves on or else the entire bottle is contaminated. When the tattoo is finished the ink caps are thrown away. This is the way that inks have been handled for years and as long as the protocol is followed the possibility for cross contamination is almost nil.

The way Metal sees things is that if it ain't broke why fix it? Especially considering the other issues that the new law creates artists are left wondering if a change to single-use ink makes any sense. Metal believes that adapting to the new law will be a burden both artistically and financially. Until ink companies adapt to the law artists will be forced to choose between the few companies that currently produce single-use ink; thus limiting their choice in color palette and potentially preventing them from using the ink that they have grown accustomed to and put their trust into. The financial toll will mostly be seen through the waste that adapting will create.

Sen. Carlucci meets with Metal and his fellow tattooists.

Sen. Carlucci meets with Metal and his fellow tattooists.

"[The law] is not a hassle, it is wasteful," Metal explains. "As of December I will have to throw out thousands of dollars that I have invested in ink. Another issue I have is with the waste created by using the smaller individual containers. It will lead to using up more plastics and unneeded stress on our landfills."

Instead of just being upset and complaining about the law, Metal gathered his fellow artists and met with their local State Senator David Carlucci to see what can be done before December. Sen. Carlucci mentions that the original intent of the law was to codify procedures that were already in place among tattoo artists, like the use of single-use needles, but weren't on the books. He then goes on to explain where things may have gone awry.

"I think what happened as that it went a step too far when people that don't know the industry are trying to say that the single-use inks [should be used]," Sen. Carlucci told the gathering of tattooists. "I think that is something that just got through without the industry seeing it. There was no lobbying on the industry side, it was really just a public health debate. We had a big organization like the Red Cross working to pass the legislation and no opposition about came up."

When taken at face value requiring single-use packages of everything involved in creating a tattoo sounds like a reasonable idea, but upon further consideration it creates a great deal of issues. Metal hopes that their discourse with Sen. Carlucci will help lawmakers find a way to make the law work for everyone involved—artists, clients and ink manufacturers. You can see the entirety of their meeting at this link.

Metal alongside Sen. Carlucci

Metal alongside Sen. Carlucci

In addition to working with Sen. Carlucci, Metal has been circulating a petition to convince Gov. Cuomo to reconsider the law. As of now the petition is a few thousand signatures shy of the 50,000 they are aiming for.

Do you think that since you live in a different state that this law won't effect you or your favorite tattoo artist? Not so fast, my friend. Considering the massive size of the state and the thriving tattoo industry within New York and changes made to tattoo laws could change laws elsewhere. Especially if those laws change the way that ink manufacturers package their goods. Manufacturers are going to be left with a choice to either stop doing business with artists based in the state or to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with the new regulation.

"In my opinion New York is an anchor state when it comes to tattooing and legislation," Metal says. "We are fighting this bill not only for us but also so bills like this don't pass all over the country. The tattoo craft would suffer all over the country and start reversing the positive steps we have made in the recent years."

It'll be interesting to see what happens with the future of this potentially industry-changing law that has riled up the passions of people on both sides of the issue. Keep checking in with Inked for the latest updates and news regarding the industry.

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