Minnesota's legislators have returned to the Capitol, bringing with them all sorts of speculation on laws and regulations to be proposed and enforced. It's an election year fraught with hot topic issues from the opioid epidemic, to sexual harassment/misconduct policy, and usually all sorts of tax proposals in-between.
Previously Minnesota small businesses have had to fight off numerous harmful bills, including tax hikes and sampling/use bans on vapor products. These 'sin' taxes, if not defeated, would have likely crushed businesses in the state; and sampling/use bans could have given smokers more of a headache when searching for alternatives to the well documented harm of burning tobacco.
But advocacy isn't easy, as demonstrated by the state's leading non-profit on the front lines in the fight for fair access to smoke-free alternatives. Most business owners and employees do not have the time or resources to meet with lawmakers, attend committee meetings, and voice opposition to the propaganda and misinformation that so often runs rampant in our day and age.
Enter the I.V.R.M. Founded in 2014, the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota began as a meeting between industry leaders concerned about the future. At the time, vaping was on track to become a multi-billion dollar industry in the US, and lawmakers were ready with all manner of regulation, taxation, and public policy ideas.
It began with a phone call between the men behind Vermillion River and Baker White, two of the most successful and influential Liquid manufacturers in the state and region. Although Dave and Danny had been rivals in business, they realized they needed to work together to ensure their industry survived and remained competitive while still helping smokers seeking something besides cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.
Dave, of Vermillion, says that Danny put pride aside and called him ahead of legislation that threatened to ban public use of vaping. One day after that phone call, a meeting was called and vapor retailers and manufacturers from around the state met at a Smokeless in Bloomington to discuss what they could do to stand up for not only their businesses, but their consumers as well.
Since that initial meeting, the state considered passing an indoor use ban and statewide sampling ban. Both of which failed thanks to the efforts of the IVRM and many concerned citizens; both vapers and non. Every year sees another tax proposal of some kind, although IVRM was an integral part of defeating at least two proposals that would have jacked up the price of eliquid for Minnesota vapers by over .30 cents per milliliter (that's a $9 increase on a 30ml bottle). Without the nearly endless work of meeting with politicians, attending hearings and making voices heard, the state of vaping in Minnesota would be a very different landscape.
Vermillion River & Baker White weren't the only competing shops to join forces. In truth all of the founding members and many of the current board members own and operate different shops, some even in the same areas. Members say it was more important to come together for the future of the industry. "We've really become friends" recalls Angie, an owner of Smokeless Distribution "We've learned how to do better business with each other, too."
Their victories haven't come without cost, though. Membership is a must for the non-profit to stay in the fight. With the start of the session, board members have been reaching out to retailers across the state. There's a large demand for more businesses in the industry to become members. Last summer's open elections went by with very little competition, meaning there's room for fresh faces and ideas within the association.
A Mixer, open to businesses and consumers alike is happening on Sunday, March 4th. It will feature a listening session between all the members and an update from Lobbyist Cap O'Rourke, who has been with the the IVRM since it began. Attendees will have a chance to voice their concerns and ideas for the upcoming session and beyond. The board also hopes it will energize the community and bring with it new memberships as well.
"No Taxation without Representation" was a mantra of the colonists before the American Revolution, and it should still ring true today. Without the efforts of the IVRM and its members, Minnesotans would be at the mercy of public health groups and Big Tobacco. Access to smoke-free alternatives would be extremely difficult if not outright banned. The IVRM Facebook carries a quote from Ryunosuke Sataro: "Individually, we are one drop. Together we are an ocean."