By Sarah George
On September 6, St. Louis County became the 191st community in the country to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, which also includes electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), from 18 to 21.
Second District Vice Chairman of St. Louis County Sam L. Page, who is also a physician, introduced the Tobacco 21 or T21 bill.
Page stated after the meeting, “this is a big win”’ and T21 “will save kids’ lives.” Even after hearing stories of how ENDS have saved lives and has proven the only means to quit smoking for many, Page and the other council member’s decision remained unchanged.
Only Republican Mark Harder voted against the bill. Harder expressed his disapproval when he said, “they can go into the military, but can’t buy a pack of cigarettes?” He also later questioned the council’s decision on social media, urging voters to show them the door at the polls.
Page introduced the bill only two weeks prior to the vote for T21, leading those in the vaping community feeling they had little chance plead their case as to why vapor products should be excluded from the bill. After the council decided to push the final vote back another week, vapers had one more opportunity to stand up for what vaping has done for them and non-vapers alike.
The following week, local vapers came armed with facts to present to the board. Heather Reinke of 3D Vapor LLC, and many others, cited pages from the findings of the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom which reads “vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking.” Reinke also reminded the board, “no one listened to those same physicians when they warned about the link between cigarettes and cancer, we need to listen to them now so we can continue to help people.”
A local vaper, Adam Berzon, fought to keep ENDS excluded from T21 by reading directly from Missouri Statute 407.0925.1 which explains alternative nicotine products as “any noncombustible product containing nicotine that is intended for human consumption, whether chewed, absorbed, dissolved, or ingested by any other means. Alternative nicotine product does not include any vapor product, tobacco product or
any product regulated as a drug or device by the United States Food and Drug Administration under Chapter V of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”
The last speaker of the night, Justin Price of The Vape Room Discount Vapor Lounge located in Oakville, Mo, ended the meeting with a powerful speech. Price told the board members he has “seen vaping change hundreds of thousands of lives,” and invited all the members to his store to see for themselves what vaping can do for those trying to quit smoking. He closed by askingthe board members to “be the first county in the United States to stand up for vaping.”
Following the meeting, vapers in attendance gathered outside to discuss how they felt. Charles Peterson, a resident of St. Louis County, said he felt “the decision was made before we got here tonight, there was nothing we could do to have vaping excluded from this bill.”
Tina Jones of St. Louis County, said she wishes vaping had been available when she was 18. As a 20 year smoker who effectively used vaping to quit smoking, Jones said, “vaping could have saved me many years of suffering while I tried to quit smoking.”
Representatives from the American Lung Association stood firm to keep ENDS included in the bill claiming that “vaping is just as harmful, if not more harmful than smoking.” A number of doctors from Washington University in St. Louis are of the same opinion as the ALA. One doctor stating, “just because a product has not been found to be harmful, does not make it safe. That is why vapor products need to be included in the T21 bill.”
Members of Smoke Free America supported the bill as well, telling the board about the pressures to smoke from young adults in the 18-21 age group and how easy high school students could obtain tobacco products with the minimum age to purchase left at 18.
While representatives from the American Lung Association, Washington University, and Smoke Free America all voiced their opinions to the board, none of the representatives would comment when directly asked how they felt about what vaping does for those addicted to traditional tobacco products.
After St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger gives his signature on September 19th, the Tobacco 21 bill will go into effect on December 1, 2016. Until then vapers that attended the meeting, say they have no plans of giving up on the fight to have ENDS recognized as a legitimate way for smokers to give up their habit without traditional pharmaceutical cessation products.