When it comes to keeping California’s children safe from the harmful effects of smoking, it’s all or nothing. No half-measures will do.
That’s why Senate Bill 140, which would impose the same regulations on electronic cigarettes as tobacco cigarettes, is so important – and the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee shouldn’t stand in its way Wednesday.
We urge approval, though we know it won’t be easy.
The bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is likely to cool what has become a smoking-hot industry, particularly among teens and young adults.
While the number of number of Americans smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes continues to decline, the number of people picking up e-cigarettes and “vaping” devices has increased exponentially. Use among adolescents, for example, tripled between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Vaping is the next-generation money-maker for Big Tobacco, even though small-time entrepreneurs were among the first to develop the technology as alternative to smoking – and even to quit – cigarettes. The industry has grown beyond that. We’re talking $3.5 billion by the end of 2015, up from $2.5 billion in 2014, according to one estimate from Wells Fargo Securities.
The companies and their powerful lobbyists have a lot at stake. But so does California.
Sure, the science remains murky on exactly what e-cigarettes do to the human body. Some say inhaling the misty aerosol vapor is better than inhaling smoke from a tobacco cigarette (even though, in many cases, consumers use both cigarettes and e-cigarettes). Some say it’s about the same or worse. But what is clear is that neither cigarettes nor e-cigarettes are healthy – especially for kids.
Leno rightly errs on the side of caution. Under his bill, the California Department of Public Health would be able to levy fines on retailers and companies that illegally sell the products to minors.
No longer would Californians be able to puff on e-cigarettes in restaurants or bars. Secondhand smoke, or the typically nicotine-laced mist that’s actually ultrafine particles, would be treated the same as the secondhand smoke from cigarettes. And retailers, including the small vape shops that dot midtown Sacramento, would be subject to new licensing fees.
These are all important steps toward snuffing out access to a product that has become a hit with teenagers and young adults. The bill also would go a long way toward combating nicotine addiction and eliminating the temptation to move on to the even unhealthier habit of smoking tobacco cigarettes.
Granted, many adult consumers insist e-cigarettes have had the opposite effect. That instead of leading them to tobacco cigarettes, they kicked the habit by weaning themselves off nicotine with vaping devices.
Leno acknowledged this on Tuesday, and urged the makers of those devices – usually the bigger, more expensive devices found at vape shops – to apply for certification as a tobacco cessation product from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
We agree. Until then, until the science proves otherwise, the dangers presented by e-cigarettes should be treated like cigarettes. Anything else presents an unacceptable hazard to our children and to public health.