BISMARCK -- Within the past three years, 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 that growth, 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 will also require child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine containers, which will go into effect Aug. 1.
The new law requires all tobacco products, electronic smoking devices and alternative nicotine products be sold with the assistance of a clerk, restricting sales through the use of self-service displays.
Prom said 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 drawn up ordinances to prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors, but no regulation was required at the state level.
Prom said 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,” Prom said.
And while she said passing such a law is important, local vendors say they are already practicing the law.
Shawn Munawar, manager of the Vapor Outlet in Dickinson, said in the two months the shop has been in business, he has not sold e-cigarettes or e-juice to minors under the age of 18.
He said he was under the impression that he couldn’t sell these products all along.
He said it won’t affect his business at all, as he always asked for identification cards.
Regardless of the law, he said the people who purchase e-cigarettes and e-juice are a different type of clientele.
“I have a very specific group of customers who come in and buy this stuff (e-cigarette products) 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,” Schneider said. “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-cigarettes and e-juices as an alternative to smoking.
“I’m pushing customers more towards them (e-cigarettes) every day because I have had such a good experience with it,” he said.
He said 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.
But the benefits of e-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 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 Aug. 1, 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.”