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Lucas Anderson

LUCAS ANDERSON

The Montana Smoke Free Association is a trade association comprised of 15 small business retail vapor stores across the state of Montana. MSFA members are Montana’s open system ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) products retail industry. MSFA is not big tobacco.

MSFA is concerned with the statements attributed to State Sen. Diane Sands in the Oct. 20, Billings Gazette article “Vaping industry spends big in Montana to influence health policy”.

“In committee, the pro-vaping witnesses sent to testify on a bill don’t look like the principals who spend thousands on lobbying, Sands said. “The front the industry uses are these local vape shops and these 'former smokers' who get so emotional and cry and say how they’re no longer addicted to nicotine and that this is not smoking,” Sands said. “If there’s someone from corporate present for a vaping company, they’re usually in the background.”

Senator Sands, the reason that the witnesses testifying on a vaping bill don’t look like the principals who spend thousands on lobbying is because we are not. The individuals testifying are small business owners and citizens of the state of Montana. We attend hearings and give our testimony so that we can participate in the legislative process of our state.

Members of the MSFA have attended every vapor related hearing held during our legislative sessions since 2015. We are primarily the people giving testimony at vapor related hearings. Never have any of Montana’s local vape shops or the MSFA paid into lobbying efforts backed by Reynolds America, Altria, or Juul Labs. MSFA has not paid lobbying fees to the Vapor Technology Association to lobby in our state. We are not puppets to be used by what Senator Sands calls an “industry”, especially not big tobacco, or the agenda that these tobacco companies push in our state.

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We are appalled that Senator Sands would call Montana citizens and business owners a “front.” We are citizens and business owners who care about the legislative process. We desire good policy and legislation in Montana. We spend our own money for travel and take precious time away from our families and businesses to participate in the legislative process.

Senator Sands belittles these "former smokers" who get emotional and cry during testimony. We too have witnessed testimonies of individuals who get emotional. These are people we know who participate in the legislative process as concerned citizens. These personal testimonies are powerful and given by citizens who believe in a technology they feel has literally saved their lives or the lives of a loved one from a deadly tobacco habit.

Science and research have shown that nicotine vapor products are at least 95% less harmful than cigarettes. These people testifying have firsthand experience on how their lives have been transformed. MSFA would suggest to Senator Sands it might be worth listening to the citizens of Montana to whom you are supposed to serve, instead of belittling a personal experience shared in a difficult public setting.

The reason “someone from corporate” is usually in the background is because they are representing big tobacco. Often these lobbyists have nothing to gain by giving testimony and are merely at a hearing to report back to Reynolds America, Altria, or Juul Labs. These people from “corporate” have no influence on the testimony we give.

MSFA and its members were an integral part of trying to strengthen youth access laws in the 2019 legislative session with House Bill 266, which did not pass. Our representatives should be able to recognize and respect the efforts of the citizens and business owners who participate in the legislative process for the benefit of all Montanans.

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Lucas Anderson is the owner of uBlaze Vapor LLC in Billings, serves as president of the Montana Smoke Free Association.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.