As the federal government has promised to crack down on vaping, local tobacco and vape shops have struggled to keep up.
Promises to crack down came to fruition in the last few days, as President Donald Trump signed a federal bill right before Christmas that raised the minimum legal age of tobacco and vape use to 21. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration released a policy memo banning most flavored e-cigarette products in an effort to curb teenage vaping.
Discussions regarding tobacco use and vaping in teenagers increased in November when Trump announced the FDA was looking into prohibiting or limiting legal vaping products. However, the increase in the tobacco age limit came as a surprise to businesses across the country, as Trump seemed to be focused only on e-cigarette products.
Businesses have been forced to adjust to the new laws in a limited period of time, which has created some frustration among business owners. Some owners have argued the new laws are unfairly targeting the tobacco and vaping industry, and have also argued the new age law is inconsistent with other age laws for other industries.
J.T. Thompson, manager of TNT Vapes at 1225 W Lindsay St., said he personally doesn’t agree with the new age law.
“As a veteran, I just don’t understand how you can join the military at 18, but you can’t smoke, vape or drink a beer until you’re 21,” Thompson said.
Brian Dillon, managing partner of Velocity Vapes on 1961 W. Lindsay St., said he also doesn’t agree with the law, but is looking for more consistency when it comes to age-restricting laws.
“If they want to change the adult age to 21 or even 25 for everything, then that’s fine,” Dillon said. “But my biggest concern is that we have adults that are given less rights than other adults. I can go buy a gun at 18. I can vote at 18. I can be tried as an adult at 18. I can fight and die for my country at 18. But if I want to smoke a cigarette or vape or drink a beer, I can’t until I’m 21. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Some businesses in town are worried about the potential, or inevitable, effects that the new laws will have on their business. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 8% of adults aged 18-24 use cigarettes or other tobacco products, which accounts for a major portion of tobacco sales. According to the Pew Research Center, 16% of college students said they vape on a regular basis, and young people are more likely than older people to vape.
Supporters of the recent laws argue the new age restriction and ban of flavored vape products will have a significant positive impact on tobacco and e-cigarette use in young adults. However, Thompson said they aren’t looking at the whole picture.
“About 75 to 85% of our business is college kids, so it’s definitely going to impact our business. I think some people aren’t taking into consideration these small business that are going to go out of business.”
Dillon believes the vaping industry has been singled out among other industries such as alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
“The attacks on vaping have been pretty harsh. It’s almost like the industry has had to make some concessions just to try to stay in business. This industry is being regulated to death, but it’s not going to be the big businesses that suffer. It’s going to be the small business that can’t overcome the increased regulations.”
Justen Woodward, employee at Oklahoma Vape and Glass Gallery, said he’s unsure whether the new laws will actually decrease the rate of young adults using these products.
“Kids are going to go out and buy illicit nicotine products that are even more unsafe,” Woodward said. “We’ve seen that with the illicit marijuana cartridges.”
However, the new age-restricting law is having another impact on businesses that hasn’t been discussed, Woodward said. Woodward, 18, was told earlier this week the new law means it will be illegal for him to work at Oklahoma Vape and Glass Gallery, which means he will lose his job in the coming weeks.
Woodward has worked for the store since June of 2019.
“It’s really frustrating,” Woodward admits. “But there’s nothing I can really do about it now. It is what it is.”
The age-restricting law was passed in late December and immediately went into effect, while the flavored e-cigarette ban gives businesses 30 days to comply with the law. Tony Sellars, director of communications for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said it’s possible the FDA will consider additional regulations and restrictions in the coming months.
As tobacco and vaping businesses across the country learn to adjust to the new laws, some are worried about the impacts on their businesses in the long term. Others like Dillon are wondering if more regulations are coming.
“How far down the Rabbit hole are we going to go? What’s the next thing we’re going to have to deal with?”
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