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Durham’s new ordinance places age restriction on tobacco sales

Several students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) said they would still vape, despite a new the Durham town ordinance that bans the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 21. 

The ordinance, which passed last week, was introduced in early October by Kenny Rotner, a family physician and council member. It specifically refers to the recently popular sales of “artificial cigarettes” – electronic devices used to inhale nicotine. 

Durham introduced the ordinance in late August, around the same time that news of illnesses from vaping across the country. Vapers, many of whom are young adults, started to experience chest pain and coughing according many reports. But some students said that they will continue to use the products. 

“I think the ordinance is childish,” senior chemical engineering major JT Couch said. “People come to college to live how they want to and limiting freedoms allow them to lash out more. You can’t tell someone they’re an adult and remove all the choices adults make.” 

Couch started using a Juul device to vape nicotine about two years ago, after receiving a deal on the product from a local convenience store. He said that he has become “immune” to the effects of vaping, like the “buzz” that he reported feeling from the nicotine aspect, but still enjoys doing it.  

A Juul is the most popular vaping product, according to the New York Times, and it contains five ingredients in comparison to cigarettes’ 7000, 60 of which are known to directly cause cancer. Each “pod” contains at least 40mg of nicotine, cited by Juul’s website, and now offers three flavors — their fruity flavors and mint flavor were recently banned in attempt across the country to get the vape out of high schooler’s hands. 

“Many people get into using Juul because of the buzz they feel after hitting it,” Couch said. “But regular users haven’t felt the same buzz in some time because their tolerance won’t allow them to feel it any longer, so they push it [the nicotine] to the advantage.” 

It has been debated by experts on whether nicotine or marijuana vaping products are at the center of the epidemic’s reported illnesses, but the New York Times revealed in a Nov. 8 report that 86 percent of the 2000 people that experienced the illness were vaping marijuana, otherwise known as THC. The cartridges contained a common ingredient, vitamin E, which is a substance used to “thicken” the THC. Instead, it ended up sticking to the user’s lungs, leading to the pains that they felt. 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts that were cited by the New York Times said that vitamin E is a “very strong culprit in injuries relating to vaping THC,” and studies still aren’t exactly sure about how nicotine vaping products effect a person’s body in terms of the illnesses, but Rotner still wants residents of Durham to realize that nicotine and  “vaping is not as innocent” as it seems. 

“Research shows that more people become addicted [to nicotine] in their early 20s,” he said. “Juul is targeting that in the market. We are seeing a rise in people in their early 20s getting addicted to nicotine again.” 

Rotner, as a doctor, has had first-hand experience in trying helping people with their nicotine addictions, which he has explained as “almost harder [to do] than with opioids.” 

“What vaping does that cigarettes don’t do is with a cigarette, you have a finite thing that you hold, smoke, and it gives you a finite dosage of nicotine,” he said. “It’s shown that with vaping cartridges, it’s equivalent to at least a pack of cigarettes or more, there isn’t a cut-off point. So, people are getting a higher and higher dose of nicotine.” 

The university is taking its own measures to stop students from vaping too. Most recently, as of last week, signs have popped up around the library and dining halls that urge students to text a number to help them “Quit Juul,” and refers to Health & Wellnesses’ website where students can make an appointment for plan to quit with a professional’s help. 

“What many people do not know is that vaping is a ‘misnomer,’” she said. “There is no vapor (steam, heated water) in vape products. These products use aerosol and other toxic chemicals as a means for nicotine absorption by a human. Aerosol is known as a lung irritant. The chemicals have damaging and lasting health effects on the delicate structures of the lungs. 

Nicotine, according to Nancy Bushinsky, a tobacco, alcohol and other drugs counselor/educator at Health & Wellness, also has an effect on the brain, especially for people under 21 where their brains are still developing. It can deregulate the production of dopamine and leave a physiological dependence on the drug. Bushinsky believes that education would be a big part of making the ordinance have an effect on the community.  

“The policy needs to be enforced and surveilled especially for retail establishments that violate the ordinance and continue to sell to minors,” she said. “Education and access to resources for individuals that are already nicotine dependence and who already have a desire to quit, should be a part of the overall behavioral change strategy.” 

Vaping is advertised as an alternative, or way to quit smoking cigarettes, according to Juul’s website, but Nicolle, a senior business student that didn’t want her last name used, said that she purchased one after going abroad and picking up the habit of smoking cigarettes. 

“I was so used to the effects of nicotine and wanted to continue smoking but at a minimum, so I chose to purchase a Juul,” she said, adding that she uses it almost every day and goes through about “a pack of pods a week.” 

Other users of the product claim that students “can just go to another town,” in response to Durham’s ban, or the ban could lead to “illegal buying and selling,” like Emma Pryor-West, a sophomore political science and international affairs student said. 

“I believe that students who were already addicted going through non-conventional buying methods would receive products that would inversely impact their health,” she said. “So, in short, it frankly bothered me that a minority was voting for the majority without even getting their point of view and not consider the methods of non-traditional transactions.” 

Pryor-West, like the office of the Student Body President (SBP) of UNH, disagreed that the town council didn’t “outline the time implication of the ordinance.” First-year representative for the SBP, Hannah Falcone, a recreational management policy major, said during the Nov. 4 council meeting that “the university is a large population that this will effect, and they haven’t been consulted with.” 

This ordinance will also affect Durham business, Elite Vapor, managed by Jon, who didn’t want his last name used. He believes that raising the age to purchase tobacco to 19 instead of 21, would be more effective. 

“I don’t think that would fully solve the problem,” he said. “But it would at least hamper access to kids in those environments, just because a lot of them can get them [vapes] from friends that are seniors in high school, but the 21 and plus, I feel like that more so hampers young adult’s abilities to make their own decisions.” 

Jon has worked at Elite Vapor for about three years now, and the store has been in the Durham community since 2012. Most of their customers, according to him, are young adults in the area from UNH, Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth and tradesmen. 

Since vaping has become a trend in the early 2010s, vape shops have popped up in large numbers around college towns, according to a study by Hongying Dai. Sixty-six percent of colleges have at least one shop within a three-mile radius. A quick Google search will show that Durham has seven shops within a 10-mile radius from campus. 

“It would definitely hurt the business a little bit,” he said. “If UNH wasn’t in here, nobody would be in business, no one would be in Durham. I just rather they do a more common-sense regulation. The age limit to 19 would affect my business, but it wouldn’t harm it as much as a raise to 21 would.” 

Jon stated that Elite Vapor is trying to phase out Juul devices, specifically after the flavor pods were banned by the FDA, and he believes that Juuls have been in the center of the epidemic’s illness-scare because they contain an ingredient that other vaping devices don’t, benzoic acid, which is used to get the high-amount of nicotine in the product, as said by Juul’s website. 

Bushinsky adds that if students are addicted to nicotine and want to quit, they can do so through Health & Wellness by making an appointment on either their website or by calling their number: (603) 862-9355 

“We at Health & Wellness began an educational and awareness health campaign around harms associated with vaping and ways to quit or reduce nicotine use, specifically vaping or Juuling which is seeing a significant uptake in college student use,” Bushinsky said. “We want to make sure that students and community members at UNH who wish to make changes to reduce harm by their nicotine use are aware of the latest evidence-based cessation protocols.” 

The ordinance is now fully in effect. 

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