Lawmakers in Rhode Island passed a measure Monday raising the legal purchasing age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.
The decision from the Barrington Town Council caught small business owners in the community off guard, especially owners who primarily sell vaping products. They fear the reform will be a financial hit to the burgeoning e-cigarette industry and will simply push young Americans looking for tobacco into neighboring towns, reports ABC 6.
The new ordinance also bans discount sales for tobacco products and increases the licensing fee for retailers.
“The long-term goal of many in tobacco control is outright prohibition of not just cigarettes, but all consumer nicotine products,” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The push to raise the age to 21 is just another step towards their fantasy world of an ‘endgame.’ Considering how much of a failure age restrictions have been for alcohol, it seems unlikely that these policies will actually stop young people from obtaining nicotine products.”
Many residents in Barrington support the stricter age requirement, and express fear about the impact vaping devices are having on teens. Anti-vaping groups often push the idea e-cigarettes have a “gateway effect” to smoking for young Americans.
A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released June 15, however, revealed after a rapid increase in youth vaping between 2011 and 2015, teens are now giving up the habit. The number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016.
Officials allegedly did not seek any input from community leaders and business owners before pushing forward with the measure, which will be implemented Sept. 5.
“I got no warning at all,” Louis Del Sesto, owner of the E-Cig Shed, told ABC 6. “There was no letter saying hey we’re having hearings, nothing like that.”
Shop owners say misplaced fears over vaping threaten to derail their businesses and livelihoods, and will ultimately do nothing to prevent teens seeking tobacco from obtaining it.
“They’re going to go to Warren, which is about five minutes away, East Providence, Bristol, and then every other town in the state,” Del Sesto told ABC 6. “It’s going to hurt us bad. I don’t know if we’re going to survive it. Without that type of job, I’m going to probably end up losing my house, I’m going to lose everything.”
Proponents of vaping note the products contain nicotine, not tobacco, and say anti-smoking groups are ignoring the role the devices play in reducing the U.S. smoking rate.
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