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Few North Dakota vape shops obey smoke-free law, study finds

Researchers said local law enforcement and state officials could step up their efforts to enforce North Dakota's smoke-free law.

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These are some of the most popular nicotine vape devices being used by students in Fargo and West Fargo public schools, according to Melissa Markegard of Fargo Cass Public Health. Special to The Forum
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BISMARCK — Only two of 35 vape shops in North Dakota fully complied with the state's smoke-free law, according to the findings of a study recently published by North Dakota State University.

In 2012, voters approved a measure to ban smoking and e-cigarette usage in public places and places of employment. The state law also restricts smoking within 20 feet of entrances and windows of places where smoking is prohibited. The law aims to curb secondhand smoke, which can cause adverse health effects.

To determine whether vape and specialty tobacco stores in North Dakota were complying with the law, NDSU researchers identified 35 stores, the majority of which were not compliant because they didn't display no-smoking signs where it was required by law.

Six of the vape shops had indoor and outdoor smoking, and vaping was found inside 14% of the shops when the study was conducted in 2019.

"Even though the state’s smoke‐free law has been in effect since 2012, vaping and smoking still occurred in required smoke‐free and vape‐free areas, according to our most recent study,” lead researcher Kelly Buettner-Schmidt said in a statement.

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The study, which was published this month, examined 35 vape stores in the state but did not include stores on Native American reservations, wholesale tobacco vendors, or grocery stores and gas stations that are licensed to sell vape products.

The researchers said the study shows North Dakota lawmakers could enact further policy changes to get more shops to comply with the smoke-free law, like expanding the state's existing tobacco-control laws to include vaping and e-cigarettes. This would require all vape shops to be licensed by the state, like the places that sell tobacco.

Local law enforcement and state officials could also up their efforts to enforce the smoke-free law, the study said.

The researchers conducted a similar study in 2015 of 16 vape stores in the state. In a comparison of the two studies, researchers found indoor vaping slightly decreased from 2015 to 2019 and outdoor smoking in smoke-free areas went up by almost 5%.

Even though the most recent study found low compliance among vape shops and specialty tobacco stores in 2019 mostly due to a lack of signage, North Dakota is doing well in restricting the amount of secondhand smoke residents inhale, the study said.

“North Dakota has one of the strongest laws in the United States to protect citizens from secondhand smoke,” Buettner-Schmidt said.

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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