In case you missed it: Senate votes to ban online vape sales
Just before the July 4th holiday weekend, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that aims to severely restrict the sales and delivery of vaping products through online vendors and retailers. Dubbed the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act, S.1253 is confusingly being co-sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas (and not-so-confusingly by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California). With rumors swirling that Cornyn is struggling in his reelection efforts back home, is the three-term senator throwing the vapes community under the bus in a last-ditch effort to save his job?
For years, it has been the democrats who have had a bee in their collective bonnet about vaping. When President Trump was under extreme political pressure to ban all vapor products at the end of 2019, it was republicans like Grover Norquist of the lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform who warned Mr. Trump that banning vaping would cost him a second term. Statics indicate that a large percentage of the vape community traditionally votes with the GOP.
Unfortunately, Cornyn is not the lone republican to back the new bill. When the Senate S.1253 passed on July 1, it received unanimous support from both sides of the aisle. Now heading to the democrat-controlled House for a final vote (the House has already passed a similar version of the bill last year - H.R. 3942), its chances of passing look all but certain. The question is: Will President Trump actually sign the bill into law?
The specifics of the proposed ban on online vape sales
The underlying argument behind S.1253 is that the online sales of vapor products should be banned just like the online sales of conventional combustible tobacco cigarettes. The latter became officially illegal in 2010 after both houses of Congress passed a prior bill that was signed quickly into law by former President Obama.
The new S.1253 will be an amendment to the House bill passed last year which stopped short of banning online sales altogether and instead placed new age verification requirements for online retailers. The amendment reclassifies electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, and per the the Preventing All Cigarette Trafficking Act of 2009 (PACT) Act, the United States Post Office will be legally prohibited from delivering vapor products – flavored or otherwise – to any U.S. address.
The bill will have a couple of loopholes though, should President Trump even sign the bill, but those loopholes are very narrow. First, there is a built-in exception that allows the Post Office to deliver vape products as long as someone is home to provide a “signature on delivery.” In a time where every other retailer in the country is moving towards contactless delivery due to the coronavirus pandemic, this line item seems somewhat outmoded.
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Second, there will be an added expense of at least $6.00 per delivery charged by the U.S. Post Office for the extra effort it takes to deliver these products. With millions of people already out of work, many vapers will find the added expense financially challenging, at best.
And third, the new bill will require all online vendors to be responsible for any state and local sales taxes. For an e-commerce retailer, that would be a bookkeeping nightmare of epic proportions.
Forcing vapers to stay at home awaiting a vapes delivery that also costs between 20-50 percent more due to a previously unnecessary service fee charge by the post office seems a bit extreme. It’s also counter-intuitive to improved public health. If vapers must jump through these legal hoops just to get vape juice, then they very well may be tempted to just head to the local convenience store for a pack of smokes instead – which may be the primary driving force behind this whole political debate.
When the first version of the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act requiring updated age verification processes was passed in late 2019, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) was fully supportive. The organization is also supportive of the new amendment, S.1253. Meanwhile, the Vapor Technology Association (VTA) is said to be diligently lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to persuade them to vote no on S.1253.
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