[North Dakota] ~ There is no denying the number of youth using electronic cigarettes has “exploded,” said Jeanne Prom, the executive director of the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy.
In an attempt to slow this growth, North Dakota legislators have passed a new electronic cigarette law, prohibiting minors from using, possessing or purchasing electronic smoking devices, alternative nicotine products or any of their component parts. The law also requires child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine (e-juice) containers, which will go into effect August 01 of this year.
The new law requires all tobacco products, electronic devices and alternative nicotine products be sold with the assistance of a clerk, restricting self-service displays sells.
Prom stated these restrictions are in place due to an increasing number of studies that show the harmful effects of liquid nicotine and an increasing number of youth who are using the products.
Since 2014, 23 North Dakota cities have established city ordinances to prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors; however, state level regulation remained dormant. Prom added that 40 states have passed similar laws to restrict usage of such devices among youth. “We (North Dakota) were one of the last states to pass a sale restriction law.”
And while she said passing such a law was important, local vendors say they are already practicing the law. Shawn Munawar, manager of the Vapor Outlet in Dickinson, stated in the two months his shop has been in business, he has not sold e-cigarettes or e-juice to anyone under the age of 18.
He was under the impression that he couldn’t sell to minors anyhow and the law won’t affect his business at all. He always asked for identification cards. Regardless of the law, he said vapors are a different type of clientele. “I have a very specific group of customers who come in and buy this stuff from me,” Munawar said.
He said there is an upfront investment because the products are initially expensive to purchase, but pay themselves off over time. “It’s a little bit of money at the beginning, but in the long run you can save money,” he said. He suspects those initial costs dissuade underage youth from purchasing the products.
Stefan Schneider, assistant manager at the Old Tobacco Shop in Dickinson, said he doesn’t sell e-cigarettes to minors either. “It’s a moral thing… I want these products to be viewed in a more positive light than a negative one.” He said his experience with e-cigarettes is personal, after he made a transition from smoking traditional tobacco products to liquid nicotine. Schneider started smoking traditional tobacco products at a young age and, as a result, began experiencing severe asthma attacks on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. “Within two months, I felt way better,” he said.
After making the switch, he no longer has regular asthma attacks; a benefit he directly links to transitioning to liquid nicotine. Because of his experience, he encourages smokers of legal age to purchase e-cigs and e-juice as an alternative to smoking. “I’m pushing customers more towards them every day because I have had such a good experience with it,” he said. He added that it can also be a helpful way for longtime smokers to wean off their addiction, so he tries to preserve that image and therefore doesn’t sell to minors.
Nonetheless, the benefits of electronic cigarettes are still up for debate, and Prom said one of the biggest concerns is that there are no federal regulations placed on the products. “There is no assurance if what the label says is what you get,” she said. “Sometimes, these products are made overseas and the ingredients are listed in a foreign language. It is like the Wild West as far as new products go.”
She said some contain toxins (while vapor has NO toxic effect) aren’t safe and there have been documented cases of children ingesting that liquid. “Nicotine juice is sold in enticing flavors and in bright colors that make the product appealing to kids,” Prom said. “And some of the bottles are not child resistant.”
Under the new law, she said, child-proof bottles will now be a requirement. Munawar said his bottles are already machine sealed, making it difficult for even adults to open the bottle. “I don’t understand what is new about this law,” he said.
Prom said the law will make for more effective enforcement and steeper penalties if an establishment is not upholding the newly-set standards. She said, as of Augist 1st, it will be an infraction to sell a product to a minor with a $1,000 penalty and an additional fine for the underage buyer. But, she said the goal of this law is “compliance.”