Local government officials across Scott County are considering a ban on vaping sales as concern continues to mount over the number of young people taking up the habit.
City councils in Prior Lake, Savage and Jordan discussed the idea during their council meetings earlier this month. Scott County District Judge Christian Wilton and Prior Lake resident Katie Moras have also asked the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency meeting, a group of law enforcement and other community officials, for a countywide ban.
“There’s a misperception out there among the kids that this is the safe way to smoke, that there’s no harm, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Savage Councilmember Christine Kelly said during the city’s council meeting. “And that’s not the case at all.”
Even without a local ban in place, the Shakopee and Chanhassen eCig Store recently announced it’s closing in May because of tightening requirements. Federal rules create an “expensive and prohibitive approval process” for business owners, according to an announcement on the store’s website.
“The whole situation represents a sad failure on the part of the government to manage and regulate this industry and a failure on the part of us as a people to defend our right to choose what we put in our bodies.”
Concerns over the deadliness of e-cigarettes — also known as mods, vape pens and vapes — has risen over the last few years following a rash of e-cigarette associated lung injuries and deaths.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied thousands of hospitalizations and 64 deaths connected to e-cigarette or vaping lung injuries across the U.S. as of earlier this month. Many were connected to THC cartridges bought informally, like from friends or online.
The Minnesota Department of Health reports 149 confirmed or probable cases, including four in Scott County, and three deaths as of Feb. 18.
Vaping and e-cigarette products have been the subject of a patchwork of laws and regulations over the last few years. In December, President Donald Trump signed legislation raising the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products — including e-cigarettes — from 18 to 21.
In January the Federal Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco products and sales, announced it would begin cracking down on the sale non-menthol and tobacco-flavored flavor cartridges by reviewing their safety instead of waiting until 2022 as previously planned.
Local cities have only gone as far as to apply cigars and cigarettes’ smoking location regulations to e-cigarettes.
In 2014, Savage amended its ordinance to ban vaping indoors. Jordan followed suit in 2015 but gave retail locations an exception. In January, Prior Lake changed its tobacco ordinance to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
Prior Lake Police Chief Steven Frazer told council members during a recent workshop that three locations — two Holiday gas stations and the Kwik Trip — sell vaping devices or products that would be impacted by the ban idea.
Moras and Wilton said the tightened regulations don’t go far enough.
Moras, a Prior Lake mom and owner of a local Spanish-immersion preschool, said she was tired of seeing the news of the potential negative side effects of vaping produce little change in the way it’s regulated.
“We’re really the boots on the ground seeing all these people losing years and years of their life to addition or hospitalizations and long-term health problems,” Moras said. “Our thought is let’s go as restrictive as possible until we get all of the information.”
Her concern over everything that is known about the health impacts of vaping — as well as everything that isn’t — pushed her to make a request of two people in her life she’d never thought she’d make: if they’re going to smoke, please take up traditional cigarettes.
“At least we know what those are going to do to you,” she said.
The health community is still studying the effects of the wide range of vaping products. But the vapor from e-cigarettes generally contains fewer toxic chemicals than cigarettes, which are linked to cancer and other illnesses, according to the CDC.
Wilton and Moras said they’re looking at vaping through a public health and criminal justice lens. Wilton, who oversees the Scott County drug court program, called marijuana a gateway drug that can be vaped, though the CDC has said more research is needed to know that.
They said they also see the marketing of commercial vape juice flavors such as “Blue Raspberry” and “Straw Nanners” as an attempt by companies to get people hooked at younger ages.
The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, which is distributed to high-schoolers every three years, found about 15% of eighth-graders and about 40% of 11th-graders tried vaping. Some reported vaping more than once a week.
“We’ve done a really good job telling kids what’s bad, except now there’s a new thing and we haven’t done anything about it,” Moras said.