- - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Forty-one states have adopted laws banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and Michigan’s legislature has passed a ban that is awaiting the governor’s signature. That leaves Massachusetts and seven other states that have not yet taken the common sense step of banning sales to minors.

In some states, the reason may come as a surprise. They cannot bring themselves to craft a clean bill that bans sales to minors and does nothing more.
Instead, anti-e-cigarette lawmakers have larded their bills with extra language designed to broadly – and unwisely – crack down on e-cigarettes by confusing them with harmful tobacco products.

Massachusetts, Oregon and New Mexico introduced bans on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors this year, but they did not become law. Why? Because anti-tobacco legislators refused to pass the bills unless they also included additional taxes or bans on e-cigarette use in specified locations.

For instance, Massachusetts’ ban on sales to minors would have also defined e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which they aren’t, and taken away the ability of business owners to permit e-cigarette use in their establishments, which is nonsensical. This sort of thinking not only prevents something everyone wants – keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors – it falsely paints e-cigarettes as having a risk profile similar to tobacco products.

In fact, e-cigarettes are tobacco-free. They contain none of the tar of combustible cigarettes, do not generate harmful secondhand smoke, and the vapor does not soil hair and clothes with noxious odors. More important, emerging research is showing that e-cigarettes may be the most effective method of helping longtime smokers break the habit.

A 2014 study in England published in the medical journal Addiction surveyed 6,000 smokers who tried to quit in the prior year. The largest share of respondents who were able to quit – 20 percent – had done so using e-cigarettes, beating those who quit without help (15 percent) and those who used nicotine-replacement therapy such as gum or a patch (10 percent).

Overall, e-cigarettes contribute directly to the Food and Drug Administration’s goal of ending smoking-related diseases and deaths.

To see an example of how state legislatures get it right on e-cigarettes, look to two neighbors of Massachusetts.

Earlier this year, Connecticut and Rhode Island enacted new laws that banned e-cigarette sales to minors, but accurately defined the products as “electronic nicotine delivery systems.” This shows an understanding of a vital point: e-cigarettes are not tobacco products, they are technology products.

They are also anti-tobacco products because so many people use e-cigarettes to break away from combustible cigarettes.

Meanwhile, kids in Massachusetts can still legally buy e-cigarettes. The same is true in Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon. And that’s wrong.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create an inhalable vapor. Many smokers use e-cigarettes and other “vaping” products to wean themselves from their tobacco habit.

Unfortunately, because e-cigarettes are an innovative, disruptive technology, their popularity has outpaced the ability of lawmakers and regulators to come up with smart, sensible rules to govern the industry.

America’s independent manufacturers and retailers of vaping products support reasonable regulation. But the industry has been frustrated by lawmakers and regulators – and even medical professionals – who do not understand the technology of vaping products and unfairly lump them with tobacco products.

This mistake not only impedes access to a valuable tobacco substitute for smokers who want to cut down or stop smoking, but it also hamstrings small businesses that are successfully competing with Big Tobacco with unnecessary regulations that can hamper or eliminate business growth. While Big Tobacco markets its own e-cigarettes, they still depend on combustible tobacco products for the bulk of its profits, and states would be remiss to enact any policy that gives them a competitive advantage in this new and growing market.

America’s independent manufacturers and retailers of e-cigarettes and other vaping products understand that their new technology is rapidly gaining popularity. The industry — which is made up of small- and medium-sized businesses, many of which are family-owned – is eager to work with lawmakers and regulators to make sure they have the most accurate, up-to-date information available as the basis for smart, sensible regulation.

Banning sales to minors — without unfairly punishing the e-cigarette industry for something it is not — would be a good start.

Gregory Conley is president of the American Vaping Association, which represents America’s independent manufacturers and retailers of e-cigarettes.

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