CHESTERFIELD • Chesterfield joined a growing list of municipalities Monday that are preventing the sale of vapor nicotine products to minors, taking action one week after a potential statewide ban was vetoed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
The City Council voted 6-1 Monday night in favor of an ordinance that would prohibit the sale and possession of vapor products to those under 18.
“These e-cigarettes should not be for sale to kids — I’ve gotten a complaint from a neighbor whose teenage kids were solicited to buy them in a store,” said council member Barry Flachsbart, who voted for the measure.
Vapor products are electronic devices with liquid nicotine that claim to lack the carcinogens found in tobacco. Usually called e-cigarettes, the products produce a vapor instead of smoke.
Many supporters of the product argue that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes and often help users to quit tobacco use.
But the industry is largely unregulated at the federal level and may appear safer than it actually is.
Dr. Anthony Scalzo, professor of pediatrics and director of toxicology at St. Louis University, called it “intuitive” to prohibit minors from the product.
“The whole process of inhaling nicotine through this electronic thing, it eliminates toxins — yes, that’s the good part,” he said. “The bad thing is it’s still nicotine.”
Scalzo said because the vapor lacks an offensive odor and lasts much longer than a cigarette, it encourages users to smoke it for longer periods of time and in public. This leads to a higher dose of nicotine over time and can lead to a stronger addiction, especially in children whose brains aren’t fully developed.
He also said it’s worrisome that there may be contaminants in the vapors that the public is not aware of yet.
And it’s especially concerning for children, Scalzo said, because it appears the companies are targeting them with flavors.
“What 45-year-old guy that goes to the casino and is smoking wants bubblegum flavored? It’s appealing to the youth,” he said. “Let’s cut to the chase.”
Parents in Chesterfield became aware of the threat and began making complaints to the city, said councilwoman Nancy Greenwood.
Council member Bruce DeGroot cast the lone vote against the measure Monday.
“This is too much government intervention,” DeGroot said. “Nobody has proven to me (e-cigarettes) are harmful to health in any way. Government powers should be used sparingly.”
Several local vapor shops support the ordinance.
Luke Ottinger, a co-owner of Arch City Vapors in the Chesterfield Four Seasons Shopping Plaza, said his shop does not sell to minors, nor does it allow parents to purchase the products for their children.
He acknowledged one isolated incident, though, in which an employee sold a vapor product to a minor.
The employee, he said, was fired.
“We don’t even give warnings for that,” Ottinger said. “As far as we’re concerned, that’s not acceptable.”
At Dorsett Vapor in Chesterfield, there’s a sign on the door notifying patrons that no one under 18 is allowed without a guardian.
Store manager Dakota Rhoads said his shop also turns away adult customers who say they are buying the vapor products for their children.
He said it would feel morally wrong to provide e-cigarettes to minors. “Getting them hooked at an early age is not something that we would want to do,” Rhoads said.
Chesterfield is not the first in its ordinance. Ray Johnson, chief of the Chesterfield police, said Ellisville and Eureka have similar ordinances. Illinois also banned the sale to minors.
Missouri legislators sent a bill to Nixon in May that would prohibit the sale to children. It would also prevent the product from being regulated as tobacco, but it allowed for changes to be made to the law if product risks were made known in the future.
In April, the Federal Drug Administration released proposed guidelines that would prohibit the sale of vapor products to minors and require label warnings that nicotine is an addictive chemical, among other rules.
On July 14, Nixon vetoed the Missouri legislation, arguing that the bill didn’t go far enough. He said it favored the tobacco industry because it exempted vapor products from the laws and taxes on traditional tobacco cigarettes.
The next day, the American Vaping Association called for the Missouri Legislature to override the governor’s veto, calling Nixon “out of step with the rest of the nation” in a press release.
More than 40 states have banned the sale of vapor products to minors.
In the case of Chesterfield, police chief Johnson said after receiving complaint from a resident, he took the issue to the Public Health and Safety Committee, which then recommended the ordinance to the council.
Johnson said the ordinance is not targeting any particular vapor shop.
“We’re seeing more and more pop up around the metro area, so we’re just trying to get out ahead of this thing,” he said.
Mary Shapiro, Post-Dispatch special correspondent, contributed to this report.