To avoid a government shutdown, President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending package Friday. The package will halt the possibility of a government shutdown until next fall, earmark money for dealing with gun violence and raise the legal age for buying tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges, from 18 to 21.
The law will go into effect next summer.
Jamie Calliham, owner of Cannabliss in Greenwood, does not think increasing the minimum legal sales age to 21 is the best thing, but he thinks it can take some focus away from the scrutiny the vaping industry has endured over the past couple of months concerning illegal cartridges being linked to traditional vaping, which he said are “false claims.”
“I don’t know how much it will help, but we definitely want to keep it out the hands of underage people and keep it in adults’ hands because that’s what this was designed for,” Calliham said. “It wasn’t designed for kids or teenagers. It was designed for adults.”
He said he thinks increasing the minimum age will help decrease underage smoking, but acknowledges that “just because something’s illegal or they’re trying to prevent it, doesn’t mean that it’s going to help.”
He said vape shops will lose some business because of the gap between 18 and 21, and customers who fit in that demographic will not be able buy products.
“It might be what’s best to stop people under 18 from using it,” he said.
Billy O’Sullivan, manager of Vapetopia’s Greenwood locations, does not think it will solve all underage smoking problems — and, while he wants clarity, he does think “we’re moving in the right direction.”
“Anybody in the industry knew it was coming from the start,” O’Sullivan said. “We also knew it was never going to be a win-win for us. There were going to be concessions that had to be made. My hope is that the age gap gives them (people 20 and under) the time to mature to make the decision not to buy for the underage kids.”
O’Sullivan does think there should be a grandfather clause that allows current vapers between18 and 20 to continue vaping.
“I think it would be wrong to not implement a grandfather clause,” he said. “You can’t give them the right and then take it. That’s not right.”
There are currently no employees at Vapetopia ages 21 or older, and O’Sullivan wants to know if his employees will legally be able to sell tobacco products similar to how 18-year-olds in most states are permitted to serve alcohol.
“It’s a lot questions. We need clarity,” he said.
While O’Sullivan does think the provision is a step in the right direction, he thinks “there are so many options that could have done much more.”
He suggests to cap the nicotine between 24 and 30%, and to stop selling tobacco products in convenience stores because, he argues, employees do not care enough to check IDs and prevent underage tobacco consumption.
“Vaping was not created to addict children to nicotine,” he said. “Vaping was created as a harm-reduction tool to get off cigarettes, and that’s what it’s still being used for.”
Convenience stores sell disposable vape pods, which O’Sullivan said are more accessible because of the price point they are being sold at and their size. Regular vape and tobacco shops sell vape pens, which are typically more expensive and larger in size than pods.
“They can’t afford it. They can’t hide it,” he said.
E-commerce is a way underage smokers are buying vapes, too, O’Sullivan said. He suggests third-party identification technology could help solve online and in-person transactions. He said a customer would upload a picture of a driver’s license and a third-party identification system would communicate to the seller if the license is valid.
“I think if there were third-party verification implemented, that would do more than anything,” he said.
O’Sullivan and Vapetopia are members of the South Carolina Vapor Association, along with about 20 other shops in the state.
“The biggest threat to this industry, in my opinion, isn’t the federal level. It’s the state level,” he said. “No matter what Trump does, the state can do what they want. The state still has senators saying vaping is killing you four months after it was proven that it’s not.”
O’Sullivan is for doing anything that will help curb youth vaping while keeping the option open to adults, but he and vape shops at the state level want a say on the decisions being made in their state.
“They’re not reaching out to us. They’re making these decisions based on people who have nothing to do with this industry saying things,” he said. “We’ve got to fight for our rights in this state.”