OPINION: Vaping retailers play vital role in preventing youth access

JULIE BISBEE

There is a stark contrast in the enforcement of laws that prevent underage access to alcohol versus those for vaping products.  

It is not uncommon to see bars refusing patrons with a fake ID or confiscating fraudulent identification. Violations of laws to prevent underage drinking could result in revocation of a liquor license or a fine, said Steven Barker, deputy director of the ABLE Commission.  

Fines and license revocation are a threat to the bottom line and responsible retailing protects the public and business owners. This effort is embraced by industry trade associations, which provide members with resources, training and education.  

Vaping retailers should take their role in reducing youth access to highly addictive nicotine just as seriously, Barker said. The ABLE Commission is a state agency tasked with inspecting alcohol and tobacco retailers and enforcing regulations through routine compliance checks.  

During a recent compliance check completed by the ABLE Commission at a Tulsa vaping outlet, about a dozen clearly underage people were turned away by state agents during the 10 minutes it took agents to complete their work. 

The clerk at this location stated management had an explicit “no ID required” policy. This, unfortunately, is what irresponsible retailing looks like, Barker said.  

Last year, the age to purchase tobacco products was increased to 21 – first by federal action and then by our state Legislature. This is a welcome move as 90% of smokers start using tobacco before age 18. But it also means that tobacco and vaping retailers need to make additional efforts to ensure tobacco products are being sold legally.  

In 2019, Oklahoma had the 13th highest rate of youth vapor use – with nearly one in four youth using this highly addictive product. While work from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and TSET help keep young people from starting tobacco, businesses play a role.  

Several pieces of legislation this session seek to increase the regulatory framework for vaping retailers. Currently in Oklahoma vaping retailers are unlicensed. Only sales tax is levied on these addictive products, unlike other tobacco products. As these measures work through the legislative process, it’s key that current laws on the books are followed and enforced.  

“It is time for vape retailers in Oklahoma to join the team and make responsible retailing of their age-controlled product a true priority. Oklahoma’s young people deserve it,” Barker said.

Editor’s Note: Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust is a state grant-making trust focused on improving the health of Oklahomans.