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Getting lost in the e-cigarette smoke: ND allows sales of electronic smoking devices to minors

FNS Photo by Dave Wallis Kelsey Eaton, regional manager of Infinite Vapor located on Broadway in Fargo, shows a variety of e-cigarette devices with shelves full of vials with different flavors or scents and varying degrees of nicotine.

FARGO — A new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report portrays North Dakota as being ahead of the curve in banning the use of electronic cigarettes indoors, but also as one lagging behind by allowing sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

The state is one of only three that prohibit e-cigarette use indoors, but it is one of 10 that allow those under 18 to buy e-cigarettes.

That may seem to be a conflicting picture of how the state views e-cigarettes, but tobacco prevention workers say it’s important to understand that they are two separate, distinct laws.

Also, because the Legislature only meets every other year, lawmakers haven’t been able to weigh in on minors and e-cigarettes.

“The 2015 session is the first opportunity to address it on a state level,” said Holly Scott, tobacco prevention coordinator at Fargo-Cass Public Health.

North Dakota does not prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors because they’re not included in its definition of tobacco, even though they often contain nicotine, Scott said.

While sales to minors are not prohibited by state law, more than a dozen cities — about half of them in Cass County — have enacted their own ordinances to keep e-cigs away from kids, at the suggestion of local public health experts.

Fargo passed an ordinance in January prohibiting e-cigarette sales to minors, with cities including Bismarck, Mandan, Williston, Wahpeton and Minot following suit.

West Fargo passed one in April, while Grand Forks, Kindred and Harwood jumped on board in July.

Casselton passed a similar ordinance in October, and Mapleton in November.

“Communities are very receptive to hearing what we have to say,” Scott said. “It’s something that will protect kids.”

Some cities are waiting to see if lawmakers take action when they convene in January.

While e-cigarettes are sold in numerous locations, Fargo has five retailers that specialize in their sale.

Officials for Infinite Vapor, which has about a dozen stores in the Midwest, including one on Broadway in Fargo, say it doesn’t matter what the state does.

It’s against company policy to sell to anyone under age 18, said Kelsey Eaton, regional manager for Infinite Vapor.

“Even in Fargo, we were ID’ing before there was a city ordinance,” she said.

She said it’s rare to have people under 18 trying to buy e-cigarettes or “personal vaporizers.”

Eaton said she supports more regulations to keep the product she sells out of the hands of minors. “We definitely don’t want to be selling to high school kids. They (our products) are not made for that.”

She said 95 percent of her customers use e-cigarettes to quit tobacco, whether it’s cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco.

Others, however, paint a different picture of some who like to “vape.”

“When you talk to adolescents, they say they’re not using e-cigarettes to quit smoking,” said Melissa Markegard, tobacco prevention coordinator at Fargo-Cass Public Health.

“They use e-cigs to do smoke tricks and because they look cool,” she said.

Markegard said while people under 18 can’t buy e-cigarettes in Fargo, the products are widely available online and from older siblings or even parents, who’d rather have their kids “vape” than smoke cigarettes.

Scott and Markegard visit new e-cigarette stores as they open, giving owners a copy of applicable city ordinances and the state’s smoke-free law.

They plan to meet with lawmakers leading up to the legislative session, in hopes a statewide ban on e-cigarette sales to minors will be enacted.

Scott said tobacco use among minors, in general, is declining.

“We sure don’t want to see an increase in other nicotine products,” she said.

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