Diane Smith, Kent Record-Courier, GateHouse Media Ohio

Sep 2, 2018 at 8:45 AM

KENT — Jason Noble says he’s trying to help Kent residents quit smoking — one vape at a time. 

Noble owns Groove, a store in Kent that specializes in “e-liquids” which he and his staff custom make for customers ages 18 to 80. 

But he and his employees recently expressed concern about Tobacco 21, a new ordinance in Kent that restricts the sale of tobacco and vape products to people older than 21. After Firefly, a hookah lounge next door to Groove, got an exemption from the new code, Noble and his employees approached Kent City Council, requesting the same. 

Firefly received the exemption after owner Tony Lahood told council the flavored tobacco products used at his business are popular among Arab students, who come to his establishment instead of bars. Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer referred to the business as a cultural experience. 

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Council responded to Noble by sending the matter back to its Health and Safety committee, which will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the basement meeting room of the Kent fire station. 

Kent Health Commissioner Jeff Neistadt said there will be “facts” presented to council at Wednesday’s meeting — including ones that illustrate the dangers of vaping. 

“Vaping is not used in any smoking cessation program because when people are vaping, they end up addicted to both of them,” he said. “The argument doesn’t hold water.” 

The new law was approved in July and prevents people younger than 21 from buying tobacco and vaping products in Kent. It was brought to council by health advocates, including Neistadt, who said 76 percent of Kentites support the restrictions. 

Wendy Hyde, regional director of the national Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, told council previously that vape products are often sold by high school students, often to those who are too young to buy the products legally. 

Neistadt said most vape products contain propylene glycol, which, when heated, releases formaldehyde gas. Most commercial vape products, he said, have at least as much nicotine as cigarettes, and contain “10 known carcinogens.” 

He said he was “extremely disappointed” to hear of the exemption for Firefly, and is hopeful that might be rescinded when council discusses the issue further. 

“It seems so silly to me that we allow these products to be sold to children and we don’t know what’s in it,” he said. “It inflames your lungs. It does everything a cigarette would do to your body.” 

The products, he said, are increasingly marketed to the young, with vaporizers made to resemble flash drives and even juice boxes. 

Noble said he and his employees can’t market their products as a smoking cessation tool, but they can tell their own personal stories. 

He admits he was “a slave to R.J. Reynolds,” smoking cigarettes for 18 years before switching to vapes in 2009. A former photographer, he wanted an alternative to cigarettes when he was taking photos at events such as Fashion Week in New York or weddings. 

He admits he used both products for a while, gradually reducing his tobacco intake and the nicotine content in the vapes. He set his quit date for Nov. 11, 2011 so he would always remember it. 

“You can ask anybody who switched from cigarettes to vapes and they’ll tell you how much better they feel,” he said. 

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