D.C. lawmakers held a public hearing Thursday on legislation that would require a prescription to purchase of any electronic smoking device or liquid, and would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and the sale of vaping devices within a quarter mile of middle or high school.
Public health advocates, students and parents who testified at the hearing expressed concern that advertising and e-cigarette flavors target children, creating a new generation of people addicted to tobacco.
But representatives of the vaping industry argued that the legislation would restrict access to smoking alternative that helps smokers quit.
“I want to hear whoever is representing the vaping industry what their story is, and I want to tell you ahead of time, don’t you believe it,” said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat. “Don’t you believe it!”
Geoffrey Gibson, owner of Capital Vape Supply, agreed that vaping products should not be in the hands of children, but he said the proposed bills would put him out of business and prevent about 3,000 of his customers who don’t like the taste of tobacco from a “healthy alternative to smoking.”
“D.C. Council members’ bills were a knee-jerk reaction to a lung illness which was portrayed by the media at the time as caused by nicotine-based vaping products,” Mr. Gibson said.
He noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data showing that many of the lung illnesses recorded across the country, including one death in the District, were likely linked to vitamin E acetate in illicit products containing THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
As of last week, 2,561 people had been hospitalized and 55 had died due to vaping-related lung illnesses, the CDC reported.
In addition, about 27% of students across the country used e-cigarettes in 2019, the CDC said.
Mr. Gibson suggested alternatives to reduce e-cigarette use among minors, such as banning the sale of vaping products in stores that don’t have age requirements like gas stations and corner stores, and lowering the limit of nicotine allowed in closed vaping systems like Juul pods. He said he sells only open systems, which allow people to determine the level of nicotine in the vape and helps wean them off the addictive drug.
Nearly everyone who testified during the more than five-hour-long hearing supported a ban on flavored products, but many said the bills do not go far enough due to insufficient research on the health effects of vaping.
“The dangers of flavored tobacco do not just start and end with e-cigarettes. The council should end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes,” said Jocelyn Collins, D.C. director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Action Network. “The tobacco industry has targeted the marketing of these products to youth—especially among communities of color and LGBTQ youth—as they attempt to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction.”
According to the CDC, e-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but the aerosol from the vapes can include heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing agents.
The hearing was recessed and will resume at a later date to hear from government witnesses.