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New vaping regulations signed by NC Gov. Cooper

The drug tianeptine is sold in retail stores under brand names like "Neptune's Fix."
Federal Drug Administration
The drug tianeptine is sold in retail stores under brand names like "Neptune's Fix."

Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law new restrictions on vaping products, and he's expected to sign a ban on sales of a drug known as "gas station heroin." The goal is to prevent the sale of products that haven't been FDA approved.

The bill will require the makers of vape pens and other similar nicotine products to get a certification showing their product has federal approval. The state Department of Revenue would then publish a list of approved products, and retailers could be fined if they sell something that's not on the list.

"There's some pretty hefty penalties for manufacturers that bypass these laws, which I think we need to have to protect our kids and protect others," said Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover and the bill's sponsor.

Susan Vick, a lobbyist for Reynolds American — which produces its own vape products — said she recently visited a vape shop near a Raleigh high school.

“A prolific number of colorful boxes lined the walls, blinking lights — something like you'd see at the fair,” Vick said. “I asked in a very rookie-style fashion, ‘I'm interested in your Chinese products,’ and I was told, ‘honey, these are all Chinese products.’

“The reason I emphasize that to you is that means they are illegal. They have not gone through the FDA process.”

But lobbyists for convenience stores opposed the bill. They say small businesses would take a hit if products already on their shelves became illegal.

"It will take hundreds of products off the shelf, that these folks make money on and rely on to feed their families," said Ches McDowell, who represents a trade group for hundreds of Asian-American-owned convenience stores. "So, we ask that you take a take a harder look at this and what this does to our communities."

Lawmakers also voted to limit sales of tianeptine, a relatively new drug known as "gas station heroin."

Tianeptine is marketed as a dietary supplement under brand names like "Za Za" and "Neptune's Fix." But it's also been referred to as "gas station heroin" because it's addictive and can cause deadly overdoses.

A bill awaiting action from the governor would add it to the state's controlled substances list, restricting its retail sale. Other states have also banned retail sales of tianeptine, including Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. The FDA has warned that it's been linked to overdoses, seizures and even deaths.

CBD, hemp products still unregulated

The legislature did not take action before adjourning on new regulations for hemp and CBD products or on a proposal to legalize medical marijuana.

New rules for hemp and CBD products that contain the active ingredient of marijuana had support in both the House and Senate. Those products are currently sold without age restrictions or required chemical testing.

But Senate Republicans tried to combine the bill with a plan to legalize medical marijuana. House Speaker Tim Moore has said he won't hold a vote on that because not enough Republicans in his chamber support it. The standoff meant the hemp bill didn't get a final vote.

But lawmakers did approve a bill that would allow people with terminal or life threatening conditions to try experimental medical treatments.

"It's going to provide life-saving treatment and improve the quality of lives of people who need it desperately," said Rep. Allen Chesser, R-Nash.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.