Reese says there are still several loopholes in regard to flavored vapes

    Tobacco 21 has been a hot topic around the United States and it’s creating buzz in Polk County, too. Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese handed out resources to the County Commissioners at this week’s meeting reminding them of the vaping “epidemic” and that, while Tobacco 21 was a “large public health win”, there are still several “loopholes” in regards to flavoring.

    Reese mentioned a student survey is administered every three years in Minnesota and last year’s survey showed that 1 in 4 students reported using tobacco in the last 30 days.

    “The MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) Commissioner would say it’s more like 1 in 3,” Reese said somberly. “We continue to give out general knowledge because products are changing as quickly as we learn about them.”

    “The difficult part of vaping is the amount of nicotine, a higher content that you can’t control since it’s in a liquid,” she added. “The tobacco industry is brilliant, so they’re two steps ahead of us. There’s no safe nicotine for a developing adolescent brain and in that developing brain the chemistry is changing at a rapid rate, and that’s a concern for us.”

    Tobacco 21, a national campaign aimed at raising the minimum legal age for tobacco and nicotine sales in the United States to 21, chalked up a “win” after language was included in the federal year-end legislative package, passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019 which took immediate effect and makes it illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes to anyone under 21.

    The initiative also hopes to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, stop online sales and increase taxes on all tobacco products including e-cigarettes, plus ask that the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) begin a review of all e-cigarettes, hookahs, cigars and pipe tobacco.

    Prior to the passage of the federal law, 16 states raised their minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21.

    Reese told the commissioners this week that Tobacco 21 is a “best practice” and protects the health of young people, and there’s an opportunity to look at what Tobacco 21 means for Minnesota and Polk County. She’d like to look at implementation, compliance, and enforcement, and plans to come back to them with proposals.

    “We’ve seen vaping all the way down to fifth grade,” Reese pointed out. “Your brain is still developing until you’re 25 and it’s important we are mindful of that as we do our planning.”

    She added that while legislation is technically in effect, some enforcements won’t go into effect until close to September 2020 after enforcement language is released, and there hasn’t been much reaction “yet” from the tobacco industry because of the loopholes.

    Reese also mentioned that she plans to visit the “vape shops” in Grand Forks to get a better idea of what goes on there, what kinds of products are offered and that she’ll report back with more updates.