Local proprietors speak on new Aug. 1 law limiting e-cigarettes in public places, workspaces
The state of Minnesota is implementing new laws to restrict the use of vaping devices on par with conventional cigarettes.
Starting Aug. 1 under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, the use of e-cigarettes and vapes, often called vaping, will be subject to the same prohibitions and restrictions as cigarette smoking in all restaurants, bars and almost all indoor workplaces and public places.
A news release by the Minnesota Department of Health warns e-cigarette aerosol -- commonly called vape smoke -- contains harmful chemicals including ultrafine particles, heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead and other cancer-causing substances.
“By limiting the use of these products in public places,” stated Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm in the release, “we protect people from exposure to harmful chemicals and send a message to kids and teens that e-cigarette use is not a healthy behavior.”
E-cigarettes, vapes, e-pipes and other vaping products are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid. These products contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and harmful to the adolescent brain. Nicotine can impact learning, memory and attention span, and contributes to future addiction to tobacco and other substances.
The U.S. Surgeon General calls teen e-cigarette use an epidemic. Locally, the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found nearly 20% of high school students use e-cigarettes and 40% have tried them. Youth e-cigarette use has surpassed conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product category among youths.
While the law expands protections statewide on Aug. 1, many Minnesota communities have been limiting e-cigarette use indoors for years. Before the state law change, at least 25 counties and 31 cities in Minnesota had added e-cigarettes to their clean indoor air policies. Most of the communities received assistance from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership.
Melissa Plotnick, a co-owner of the vape shop Vapor North on Washington Street in Brainerd, noted Baxter already has strict limitations in place for vaping in work settings or public places. Vaping has been the center of a larger cultural conversation for more than a decade, she said, one where she sympathizes with both sides.
“The hotels had an issue with the people vaping out by the pool, the cloud-chasers and all that. There’s a certain crowd, typically younger people, who want to blow crazy clouds and run their devices at high temperatures,” Plotnick said. “I explained that’s a certain mentality. It’s the exception, not the norm. It’s not the people quitting smoking. They’re not chasing clouds, they’re chasing flavor. ”
Plotnick said there’s misconceptions about e-cigarettes that influence the larger discussion, leading to unfair crackdowns from government agencies. She pointed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeling of e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and portraying them as just as dangerous and unhealthy as cigarettes, despite there being no tobacco in e-cigarettes and their demonstratively healthier composition. Many vapers turned to e-cigarettes to find a healthier alternative after years of conventional cigarette use.
While the personal needs of people need to be respected, Plotnick said she views the law as a mixed bag -- a proactive statute that’s intended to protect the privacy and personal autonomy of non-vapers in public places, while also contributing to a false narrative that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as traditional tobacco products.
“Honestly, I do kinda agree with it,” Plotnick said. “There’s another side as a vape store owner that I take issue with, but as a human being, going into a place and being exposed to something I’m not familiar with, I get that. I haven’t vaped in public in years. It would be like coughing in someone’s face.”
Gordon Champion, a Brainerd resident described as a Vapor North regular, said he agrees with the law in its intentions.
“I think it’s fair. If you go into a vape shop, that’s one thing. You’re expecting it,” Champion said. “But if you go to, say, McDonald’s or Perkins, we don’t know if someone is living with or without nicotine. Nicotine is habit-forming and we don’t know if it will harm younger children.”
When asked how the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act will affect the vaping industry, Plotnick said it remains to be seen going forward.
“I don’t know how it’s going to affect my business,” Plotnick said. “There’s been so much with the FDA, that I don’t think we’ve been able to take a look at that.”
From the bar angle, Steve Shepherd, owner of Shep’s on 6th in downtown Brainerd, said customers are currently allowed to vape inside Shep’s until Aug. 1, though he noted the new law looks to improve the overall cleanliness and ambience of his establishment.