By Kristine Meggenberg
Special to The Sun
Electronic cigarette vendors and consumers are taking a stand against Oklahoma Senate Bill 802, which bans e-cigarette sales to minors and imposes a sin tax on e-cigarette products.
Chris Bussell and Vincent Moscatello, owners of eVapor Bar of Edmond at 701-D W. Edmond Road, opened March 9 and want a chance to correct the misunderstandings that they feel Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, has conveyed to the public.
Senate Bill 802, introduced by Johnson, originally was four pages long and didn’t include e-cigarettes. Last week, Johnson introduced a 34-page substitute bill that would apply to nearly every Oklahoma law regarding the sale of cigarettes, vapor products and tobacco-derived products. The measure passed by a vote of 26-15 and heads to the House of Representatives.
“My question is if they are going to tax vapor products are they going to tax 1-800-QUIT-NOW that offers free nicotine gum and patches to help smokers quit?” Bussell said.
Johnson has proposed that it is unlawful to sell any tobacco-derived product or vapor product to anyone under the age of 18. The eVapor Bar already complies with this portion of the proposal and supports it, Moscatello said.
“The impacts are far more reaching than the direct impacts to our business alone and that should be the real focus of this question. This bill affects those who currently vape or smoke electronic cigarettes, it will affect family members of those that vape or smoke electronic cigarettes, it affects the people all vape shops employ, which in turn has an impact on the economy of Oklahoma,” Moscatello said.
The eVapor Bar believes this bill will discourage Oklahoma citizens from vapor smoking as an alternative to smoking regular cigarettes because of the proposed taxes the bill will impose on all the components and accessories that entail vapor smoking. As of now, a person can come into eVapor Bar and start vaporing as an alternative to smoking for the cost of a carton of name-brand cigarettes.
“As residents of the Great State of Oklahoma, and citizens of the United States, we require that our elected officials make intelligent and informed decisions concerning the welfare and health of its citizens. Any person that reads this bill and has access to Google, can tell after just a few minutes of fact finding, that the Senate passed this bill without regard to fact and knowledge concerning vapor and vapor products. That should not sit well with any citizen whether the smoke, vape or not,” Moscatello said.
The bill will add a 5-cent tax per device on top of the state-mandated sales tax and any city-enacted sales tax, at no time will the tobacco-derived product exceed one-tenth the rate of tax imposed on a pack of cigarettes in Oklahoma.
Johnson feels there has been misunderstandings about Senate Bill 802 and he would welcome any conversation with the community so that they are able to compromise and both be pleased with the bill passing through the House of Representatives.
“Some organizations that claim to be dedicated to promoting public health have recently come out against this bill, even though it would mean minors could continue buying these devices. I believe this is because I opposed a measure in committee that I firmly believe was bad public policy,” Johnson said. “I’m shocked that they would play politics with the lives of Oklahoma’s children. Fortunately the majority of the Senate saw through their effort and SB 802 was approved and now moves forward to the House. I urge their members to address this loophole in Oklahoma law and help us keep these products out of the hands of Oklahoma children.”
Johnson said he has been shocked that people have been speaking against his main goal, which is to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of children because if this law is not put into place now tobacco companies could use e-cigerettes to attract minors so that they become addicted to the nicotine and when they are 18 years old then they are able to buy cigarettes. Johnson fears that tobacco companies are targeting minors. He said he is willing to working toward a compromise on all issues with the bill.
“I can’t try to target vaping groups when I didn’t even know they existed,” Johnson said.
The owners of eVapor Bar want to encourage residents to write letters and call the members of the Public Health Committee in the House assigned to this bill.
Johnson also encouraged citizens to call or email him with questions or concerns about Senate Bill 802. Call 521-5592 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOR MORE information on where to send letters and calls, visit http://okhouse.gov/Committees/CommitteeMembers.aspx?CommID=107&SubCommID=0.