NEW ULM - Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have been on the rise in the last decade and are starting to become a point of contention for lawmakers.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution that users inhale. The liquid solution can contain nicotine, but some solutions are nicotine free. As a result the legal status of e-cigarettes is becoming complicated. Anti-smoking groups want them classified the same as other tobacco devices, and others believe that requirement is too far reaching.
For one particular New Ulm business these debates at the Legislature are crucial. Blue Blazes Vapes opened shop on Minnesota Street last February and specializes in e-cigarette products. Business owner Robb Zwakman said he has mixed feelings about the proposed regulations.
The first step for the House and Senate is the passage of regulations preventing minors from gaining access to the products. This legislation would not effect Blue Blazes Vapes because it already restricts minors from entering the store. Zwakman agrees that e-cigarette dispensaries should be kept out of the reach of children.
Zwakman has already begun labeling products. Labels provide information of the ingredients in the liquid solution as well as a cautioning on nicotine content.
The indoor air law is another key issue being debated in the Legislature. The House bill only restricted use of e-cigarettes in state-owned building, while the Senate bill includes indoor air laws. Part of the reason e-cigarettes are becoming popular is the vapor produced is less offensive to non-smokers. Zwakman said that the vapor produced by e-cigarettes is often pleasant and goes unnoticed by non-smokers.
The Food and Drug Administration has not released any official findings on the effects of e-cigarettes, but any information is likely to influence lawmakers. The FDA's regulations will ultimately decide the fate of businesses like Blue Blazes Vapes.
Zwakman's major concern was if the FDA begins requiring licenses for all products. "Deep down I think it will happen, but I hope it doesn't," he said.
Zwakman not only sells the liquid solutions at his store, he also manufactures it. At last count his store sells over 70 flavors.
Because Zwakman personally manufactures his supply of liquid solutions, each individual flavor would require a license. The application fee to license a single product can cost over a $1,000. Zwakman said that any potential licensing requirement would likely put him out of business.