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A Bad Deal

Jobs and businesses at risk as Maryland tries to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. Hundreds of small businesses that are doing their part to stop teens and others from illegally purchasing electronic cigarettes risk disappearing as Maryland authorities push SB 177, a bill in the state legislature that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products.

Business owners who have passed multiple compliance checks and are abiding with all state laws say the proposed measure would be a job killer and is unnecessary because sales of electronic smoking devices to persons under 21 are already illegal.

In addition, these businesses help adults quit combustible cigarettes, a deadly product that kills 500,000 yearly.

In testimony submitted to Senate Finance Committee, Charles Gott, owner of Vape Jungle, which consists of four vape shops in Maryland employing 15 people, noted they are doing their part to keep the products they sell away from minors. To do so, they prevent anyone under 21 years of age in their stores. They ask for identification at the door and turn away customers they believe are making a straw purchase.

Charles said he tried quitting cigarettes for a long time and through every “approved” cessation product available to him. After trying vaping one night at a party, he has been tobacco-free for over seven years. “I no longer wheeze, I sleep much better, and I no longer have a nasty smoker’s cough. I used coffee flavor to quit, and there is no way I would ever go back to smoking or using a tobacco flavored product,” he said.

Candice Gott, co-owner of Vape Jungle and a member of the Maryland Vapor Alliance testified before the legislators that data from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration confirms vape shops in the state are doing their part and not selling to people who are underage. Maryland vape shops continue to pass compliance checks while convenience stores and other retail establishments that are not age-gated continue to fail compliance checks, she noted.  Candice discusses how she became addicted to cigarettes at 15 and smoked whatever type of cigarette was available to her.  “Beggars cannot be choosers” she said.  “If you take away flavors from responsible adults who use them to refrain from smoking, teens will continue to experiment with what is available to them, flavored or not.  If flavors are reason, then why did I get hooked?”  

Candice said she tried quitting with gum, pills, patches, and even hypnosis, without success. After smoking for 15 years, she used green apple-flavored vapes to give up that habit. “I have not had a cigarette since the day I found my flavor,” she said.

This experience led the couple to open their vape shop. Candice and Chuck have helped thousands quit combustible cigarettes in their seven years of business. 

The typical nicotine content sold in a vape shop is less than 1%.  Vape shops are unique because they offer customers a way to ween down their nicotine content over time.  These types of options are not available in big tobacco products that only come in 3% or 5% nicotine. 

Vaping involves no combustion, tar or ash.  A study by the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians shows this improves the user’s oral hygiene, skin health, circulation, and lung capacity.  The study also say that vaping is at least 95% safer than using traditional combustible cigarettes.

A ban on flavored e-cigarettes in Maryland open the door for a large black market.  Maryland is not a big state and many vapers have proclaimed they will make their own juice, buy it from someone else who makes it, or travel outside of the state to buy flavored products.   

After Massachusetts banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in June 2020, the state reported an immediate drop in revenue because consumers started buying flavored tobacco in neighboring states, noted the Tax Foundation.

In addition, items found on the black market with have little to no quality control. E-liquid can easily be made with items found from different stores or ordered online. This could prove to be dangerous. 

Taking away flavored e-cigarettes also impacts responsible adults who are following the law and forces them to turn to the black or smuggle items in from out of state.  Meanwhile, teens will still experiment with high-nicotine products made by big tobacco.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit group that champions the use of vapor products and electronic cigarettes to help smokers quit, said as much in a press release in 2020.

“While the ideal is for no youth to vape or smoke, the unintended consequences of policies like these could be more young people smoking cigarettes or switching to illicit THC cartridges. Prohibitionist groups can complain all day long, but the reality is that flavored vaping products do help adult smokers quit.”

This was corroborated by a study of over 20,000 adult vapers published in 2018 by the Harm Reduction Journal. The report concluded that “restricting access to non-tobacco e-cigarette flavors may discourage smokers from attempting to switch to e-cigarettes.”

The law also creates yet another problem for businesses that are already reeling from the pandemic and are trying to survive in uncertain economic times. 

Business advocates say banning the sale of flavored e-liquids to adults will cause serious and lasting damage to tobacco harm reduction goals, put people out of business, and increase unemployment.  What is worse is that the law does not even address the real problem.  This attempt to ban flavored vapes is another knee-jerk prohibition that will need to be back-pedaled on when legislators figure out they’ve made a huge mistake.  Prohibition did not work then, and it will not work now.  

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