Convenience store clerks have heard complaints, but the new federal law raising the age limit on tobacco and vaping products to 21 doesn’t seem to have had a major impact in its first weeks of implementation.
Another change ahead may be more noticeable, according to Gary Hudson, owner of Southern Vapor in Enterprise and Troy.
Hudson notes there are two kinds of vaping devices — a small pod-like system which looks a bit like a computer jump drive, and a bigger, tank-like device.
The smaller device, like the Juul products that have been in the news often, takes a small pod that is preloaded with “juice.” A customer would snap a pod in and is ready to vape.
These systems are most appealing to underage users because they are small and can be hidden easier than the bigger appliance. In that device, the tanks can be refilled instead of popped in and out like the smaller pods. The juice is purchased in bigger bottles.
“The biggest problem is the underage don’t want this kind of device,” Hudson said. “It’s not easy to conceal. But something like a Juul, they can hide it so easy and use it.”
The vaping industry’s image took a major hit last year after people got sick, and some were hospitalized and some died. Hudson said those cases weren’t coming from the thousands of vape stores.
“The kids and people on the street were taking the pods and what was in them out of them and replacing it with marijuana-based THC products,” Hudson said. “They were sitting there basically hitting marijuana all day long. That’s what these laws have been trying to address.”
Besides raising the age limit, the flavored juices are being banned within 30 days for the small, pod-like devices. The only two flavors that are approved after 30 days will be tobacco and menthol. That is consistent with the Juul and small-pod devices that claim it is part of a stop-smoking program.
The other flavored juices, the government determined, were being marketed to younger users, which is why those flavors are going away from the smaller pod devices.
“We view this entire FDA regulation as a positive step,” Hudson said. “We think that 21 is the appropriate age for tobacco and vaping. I think it should have been done a good while ago. Vape stores have always been opposed to underage teenagers vaping.”
Enterprise Police Department Lt. Billy Haglund doesn’t foresee a huge impact on the law enforcement end of the issue. He said nearly all store owners act responsibly.
“It’s a matter of people buying it for them — just like alcohol,” Haglund said. “They’ll send somebody in for them, ‘Hey, I need this.’ It’s like that with smoking, too. We’ll be reactive and react when we need to.”
Hudson said the flavor ban only applies to the smaller pods, not the tanks.
“This new law they announced is not going to affect those big devices; we can still sell all the products that go with them,” he said. “We can still sell the juices that they put in there.
“Most of the adults are not using the Juul-type system. They use the bigger-type system. That’s what they’re trying to protect. This law eliminates all the flavors in those Juul-type devices except just straight tobacco taste like a cigarette or menthol like a menthol cigarette.”
Hudson said the new law is a positive step because it creates a balance between the underage vaping program, but still protects the millions of adults who are using vaping to stop smoking or create a healthier lifestyle.
However, Hudson wants to make sure that those flavored juices will continue to be available to adults in those larger tank devices. A ban has not been proposed, but there is some confusion.
He said he has customers in Enterprise and Troy who are “on pins and needles,” afraid that their favorite juices are going to go away.
“I could take testimonies just from my two stores and fill up your newspaper with them,” he said.
Hudson, who has been in Enterprise for nearly six years and in Troy for nearly four, said his store will continue to ask for ID.
“We’ve had no problem with kids buying in our store,” he said.
The new tobacco and vape law will be enforced like similar laws, Haglund said.
“We’re going to enforce it like we’ve been enforcing underage drinking,” he said. “We run across somebody and if we need for some reason to identify them and they’re in possession of it, then they’ll be in violation of the law.
“When we run across it, we’ll take our appropriate actions. We have to.”