Vapers claim SB802 gives power to big tobacco

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Vape shop owners and customers are getting organized in their effort to fight a measure that would ban sales of so-called e-cigarettes, or personal vaporizers, to minors.

Senate Bill 802 would also place a tax on the liquid nicotine that's used in the e-cigs.

The bill has passed a vote in the senate and is now being considered in the house.

Opponents to the bill held a meeting Sunday night to discuss what they call "hidden agendas" in the bill; items they feel could threaten their businesses and do harm to Oklahoma consumers.

Many swear the e-cigarettes have helped them kick the tobacco habit.

"I can get the nicotine but not all the other harmful chemicals that come along with burning tobacco," Bryan Hull said, an e-cig customer.

E-cigarettes heat a form of liquid nicotine but they don't contain tar, carbon monoxide, or the other cancer causing agents in regular cigarettes.

Courtney Conrady said the e-cigs were the only thing that helped her quit smoking after she underwent lung surgery.

"It saved my life," she said.

She said she believes in it so much, she opened her own shop in January, EVapes OK.

But now she said SB 802 is threatening her fledgling small business.

"This would definitely change things up and not in a good way," Conrady said.

Vape shops agree with the main intent of the bill, to keep these products out of the hands of minors.

They're not even that upset about the nicotine being taxed.

They said the real problem is regulating the distribution of that nicotine.

"When they say the shops are going to have to buy from cigarette distributors, well, who are the cigarette distributors in this state? Big tobacco," Hull said.

Opponents of the bill said big tobacco is using it as a back door way to control this relatively new industry.

"Basically they want to control the market and have us purchase from them," John Durst said, owner of OKC Vapes.

Vape shop owners and customers said the state should be promoting the product as a way to quit smoking, not regulating the industry into extinction.

"This is really no different than going and getting a nicotine inhaler or doing lozenges or gum or patches," Hull said. "Those things aren't taxed. Those things aren't regulated so that they have to buy them from big tobacco."

The author of the bill, Sen. Rob Johnson, said his main focus is making it illegal for these products to be sold to anyone under 18 and to put a small tax on it.

He said he is not aware of any language in the bill that would give power to big tobacco, but said that he will look into it.

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