Tattoo Artist Petition Leads to Revision of Strict Ink Law

Bridget Punsalang tattoos a client. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ferguson.

A state law that would change the type of ink tattoo artists use has been overturned following statewide pressure on lawmakers from the tattoo community.

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill amending a tattoo ink policy from a law passed in August of 2015. The law called for the use of sealed, pre-filled packs of ink rather than using single-use, disposable cups to pour the ink into from a bottle. Disagreement with the law’s wording, which would have outlawed the use of bulk bottled inks, brought nearly 50,000 electronic signatures to an online petition.

“The way the law was worded meant we could no longer fill tattoo caps with just enough ink to work on the client, which has been an accepted practice in the industry for a long time,” said Bridget Punsalang, the Saratoga Springs-based tattoo artist who started the petition.

Upon reading the original legislation, Punsalang noticed the wording in the law would cause major changes to how she and other artists in the state would need to stock their ink supplies. She does primarily color work for her clients, so having to replace her supply with sealed, pre-filled packs would have meant throwing out nearly 100 shades of bulk ink. Aside from the cost of replacement, the only inks on the market that would have fit the requirement are of lesser quality and variety, she said.

As support on the petition grew, artists across the state spread the word, met with their local lawmakers and eventually with the original sponsors of the bill to show the measure needed revisiting. Their efforts were recognized by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), which stalled the planned December implementation of the policy as lawmakers worked on alternative language for the law. The turnaround in Albany was fast; in under seven months the bill was sent back for revision and signed into law on March 11 by Cuomo.

“I’m really proud so many people in the industry were able to notice this problem, come together and ultimately do something about it,” Punsalang said. “We just can’t lay down and watch laws that don’t make sense come into effect. This proves lawmakers do want to work with us and care about what we think.”

The original justification behind requiring sealed, pre-filled ink packs was to further prevent the “spread of disease through reusable materials,” the law read. Tattoo artists argued that the measure was unnecessary, as there were already existing industry standards and precautions in place to protect themselves and their clients.

“The key to preventing cross-contamination is not nit-picking the supplies we use, but to ensure artists are blood-borne pathogen trained and know proper handling procedures,” Punsalang said.

Federally, tattoo artists are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to complete a yearly course on how bloodborne pathogens are spread, how to avoid exposure and what to do if exposed to infected blood and other bodily fluids in the workplace. Additionally, the NYSDOH is now working on alternatives to further the safe handling of ink and supplies without the use of pre-filled ink packs.

Though he could not comment on any specific regulations in the works, NYSDOH spokesman Steve Flamisch said the department will be in open dialogue with the public concerning any preliminary changes.

“The New York State Department of Health is drafting body art regulations to standardize practices and prevent the transmission of Hepatitis C, HIV and other blood-borne illnesses,” NYSDOH spokesman Steve Flamisch said. “The public will have the opportunity to comment on the new regulations before they are enacted.”

About Kristen Warfield 72 Articles
Kristen is a fourth-year journalism major and editor-in-chief of The Oracle.