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Put that in your pipe and vape it: Examining the FDA’s new age requirement

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Posted at 2:52 PM, Dec 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-27 14:52:05-05

(LEX 18) — There are a lot of people across the country who stand to lose a lot from the FDA’s decision to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco and vaping products to 21.

Few could lose as much as Tony Florence, who runs Vapor Stockroom, one of the state’s largest manufacturers of vaping liquid.

“14 percent of our business here is based on 18, 19 and 20-year-olds,” he said from the lobby of his Lexington warehouse. “So business will be impacted.”

Still, Florence is aligned with the FDA’s mission and understands why the government agency acted in this manner.

“I fought it in the past. Thought it was a public health issue, felt that 18, 19 and 20-year-olds should have access to a harm-reduction product,” he said. “But youth access has gotten so bad right now, that my stance has changed.”

But Florence isn’t blind to the potential for negative side effects that could come from raising the minimum age.

“In theory, it’ll probably be easier to get combustible cigarettes, so you may have a lot of the 18, 19, and 20-year-olds going back to cigarettes, which would be a travesty,” he said.

He’s also concerned about the potential for those underage young adults turning to the “black market.”

“I don’t know how that’s going to play out. When you’re an addict, when you’re addicted to things, you will find ways to acquire the product," Florence said. "Hopefully it won’t devolve into the THC lung issue, when people started going to the black market to get their product.”

The CDC eventually concluded that most of the cases of vaping illness across the country, stemmed from using black market THC, or Vitamin-E based oils. When that happened, business at Tony’s plant suffered and he was forced to lay off eleven employees.

“They heard all of this bad stuff about vaping, so they passed vaping bans on this product [in several states], which is not to blame at all," said Florence.

As long as the government doesn’t issue a ban on flavored liquids, Florence doesn’t think business will be impacted too dramatically this time.

He does hope the new age minimum helps keep tobacco and vaping products out of the hands of young people. He’s just not sure to what degree it’ll work, or if it’ll make things more difficult for some.

“You’re criminalizing 18, 19 and 20-years-olds who might be using vapor products as a harm-reduction thing, to get off cigarettes,” said Florence.