Though it’s foggy outside, it’s a beautiful day for a vape meet as far as weather is concerned in Minnesota, and perfect for making it foggy inside while talking advocacy. The above average temperatures have allowed some of the biggest names in e-cig advocacy in the area to gather at Trappers Bar and Grill in Circle Pines, MN for the Independant Vapor Retailers of Minnesota (IVRM) and Minnesota Vapers Advocacy (MNVA) vape meet and mixer. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take notes and do some shmoozing with some of the store owners of the biggest and best e-cig companies in the state and log some notes for my first blog in 6 months. I’m hoping after settling down into my new place combined with the up-coming cold weather I will have more time and ambition to continue the work I’ve been missing out on recently.
The meeting was opened by Tim Koester, the President of IVRM. He warned of the industry being under siege from regulation. If you don’t know the struggles the e-cig industry faces, I hope you will check out the videos on the A Billion Lives website. The up-coming Indie film is set to release early next year (2016), and highlights how big pharma, as well as some tobacco companies, are vying to misguide the public into thinking that electronic cigarettes not only don’t help people quit smoking, but go as far as to say they are just as harmful as traditional tobacco cigarettes.
Cap O’Rourke – IVRM Lobbyist
Lynda Barry – IVRM Manager
Cap O’Rourke, the lobbyist of IVRM, spoke about Minnesota which was one of the first states in the industry to have a lobbyist. The most common industry regulation so far is public use bans which often end up with sampling bans. So far, Minnesota has been mostly successful in defeating sampling clauses. Since the IVRM has started, the only two cities to ban sampling are Bloomington and Perham, MN. There is a law that is beginning to come into play where anything that may effect a tobacco licence in Minnesota must give affected companies a 30 day written notice before passing or implementing a new law. Perham may have to rescing their law since they did not follow proper procedure.
Flavor bans are the newest laws being passed. Minneapolis is one of these new places to pass a flavor ban. You may only sell flavored tobacco products if your business derives more than 90% of their sales from tobacco. This type of ban is easier for consumer areas that readily have access to a vape shop. However, more rural areas would see vapor products taken off the shelves in places like gas stations and convenience stores.
Another regulation that may affect how businesses continue are for making and dispensing eliquid to consumers. Each county in Minnesota may enforce this law differently, so the IVRM is doing everything they can to be involved in the process of making these laws.
There is news that the vapor tax laws that were not passed last year will be re-visited this year. The department of revenue, governors office and many democrats are opposed to the vapor tax as it is seen as a victory for big tobacco. There may be a proposal to making the legal age to purchase tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 years of age. “We get painted as big tobacco, and the public health industry is just starting to realize that there is a split from that industry with vapor products”, Cap said. Next year is an election year for the house and the senate in Minnesota. “I’ve done my best to say that we will do everything we can to help those who help us, even though we’re not big enough to affect who controls the house or senate, we are big enough to have individual influence”.
“Flavor bans and public use bans are childs play compared to what is happening at the FDA”, said Cap O’Rourke. According to the FDA, the regulations for pre-market approval will be applied to 99.9% of products, and that will kill the industry. Sue of Simply Vapor was out in Washington DC to help explain that the regulations will put most shops out of business, as the deeming regulations are expected to leave less than 100 different products on the market, devices, e-liquid and flavors included. The expectation is that these regulations will pass, and as people realize how crippling these regulations are, we will have a short window between now and the next federal elections in the fall of 2016 to have them changed. The biggest people to talk to are our congressional officials including Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
On a positive note, the IVRM is working on making it possible for online consumers to choose from IVRM member shops and even get coupons to help grow the industry shops that support advocacy.
Jason Downing – MNVA President
Jason Downing, president of Minnesota Vapers Advocacy group was in attendance and said “For 2016 we are looking to go big with advocacy. Talking amongst other advocates is great, but we must break out into other vapers and the general public to gain support. This will take the good news of vapor products into the public eye. One example is a recent billboard that was constructed in California with the information that Ecigs are at least 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. One of the most difficult things to get across is taking a lot of information and breaking it down into information that the general public will understand. When it comes to consumer advocacy, facebook advocacy is not enough. When bans take place, we need people at those meeting to make officials realize the actual impact of the law they are passing. As a shop owner, you are the one that talks to the consumers, and you are the one who can help them understand the attack this industry is under.”
Beecher Vaillancourt, treasurer of IVRM, also spoke at the meeting and said “Businesses need to take a priority on planning how they will financially support our lobbyist. As well as the financial support, as a shop we need to get the word out to new shops that are not involved in advocacy yet. In Minnesota we have at least 100 shops that are not financially supporting advocacy, but around 55-60 that are. In comparison to other states, Minnesota is doing really well in this regard, but I hope we can all continue to work to get the news and get everyone involved.”