After nearly two years in regulatory hell, vape shops and e-liquid manufacturers in Indiana are about to return to something resembling normality. And it couldn’t come too soon.
As we reported in November, Indiana lawmakers are introducing a fix for the state’s controversial 2015 vaping law. State Sen. Randy Head, a Republican from Logansport, will introduce a bill this week that will lessen restrictions on the industry and eliminate the mandate that manufacturers obtain security from a single state-licensed provider.
Head told the Indiana Business Journal that issuing permits shouldn’t be handled by a private company. “It’s a government function and the government ought to do it,” he told the paper. Head voted against the original law in 2015 and the second version that passed last year.
The new bill will be the first legislation introduced in the 2017 session, Senate Bill 1 (SB 1). That designation means it’s a priority of the legislature’s leadership, which is a good indicator of probable passage.
Sen. Head told the IBJ that SB 1 will eliminate the restriction that prevented new manufacturers from entering the market after July 2016, and will instead focus on “common sense regulations like safety caps and understanding what the ingredients are.”
The current law created very specific requirements for security companies that could be contracted to monitor e-liquid manufacturers — so specific, in fact, that only one company in the country was able to secure certification to do the job. That company, Malhaupt’s of Lafayette, IN, also had unseemly connections to legislators and a lobbyist who had worked to advance the law.
“We buy coffee at Starbucks, we buy hamburgers at McDonald’s, and those things can kill us if they’re not done properly or a dangerous substance is put in them,” Sen. Head told the IBJ. “But we don’t mandate that there be 24-hour video monitoring of the people creating those products.”
Head hasn’t decided how to handle the six e-liquid manufacturers that were licensed to sell products in the state under the current law. They may be required to reapply after the new law takes effect. Three of those companies have connections to a casino company that also shared a lobbyist with the original promoter of the law, who then ran the association that represents the licensed producers. That association is now led by a former state legislator.
The convoluted story of corruption and crony bargains became mainstream news in Indiana last year when several people were questioned by the FBI. The press attention, especially from Hayleigh Colombo of the IBJ, embarrassed legislators and led in large part to the repairs being implemented now.
Indiana vapor advocates have played a huge part in driving the changes. Hoosier Vapers‘ Evan McMahon and Amy Lane of the Indiana Smoke-Free Alliance (ISFA) have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and fight the restrictions in court and through meetings with legislators. The two advocates are aligned in support of the new law.
“The ISFA has been working closely with Senator Randall Head’s office in support of SB1,” Lane said in a statement, “because we are confident this bill will fix the monopoly created when Public Law 176 took effect. It will open the borders of Indiana back to e-liquid manufacturers from across the nation, allowing consumers more choices and cheaper goods.”
“Additionally, this bill will provide a boon to small vapor businesses, allowing 23 of the 27 previous e-liquid manufacturers to either reopen their businesses or create new ones in the great state of Indiana,” Lane added.
The ISFA has hired a lobbyist to guard the interests of its independent vapor business members during the legislative session. Turning Point Brands, which sells some vapor products and opposes the current law, also has a lobbyist working in Indianapolis.