Capitol Alert

Vaping could be snuffed out in California if these bills become law in 2019

California lawmakers on both the left and the right are working up plans to restrict vaping in the coming year, citing their worries that flavored tobacco in e-cigarettes entices too many young people to take up a potentially harmful habit.

Two proposals, Senate Bills 38 and 39, would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products in the state and require e-cigarette vendors to deliver their products in “conspicuously marked” containers and only with the signature of a person 21 or older.

The pending bills would not affect the sale of unflavored e-cigarette products. SB 38 defines flavored tobacco as “any tobacco product that contains a constituent that imparts a characterizing flavor.

In the Assembly, AB 131 would prohibit e-cigarette manufacturers from advertising or promoting products that appeal to children, such as ts using cartoons.

Together, the package of bills would heavily regulate a growing industry that’s projected to record $43 billion in annual sales by 2023, according to Research and Markets.

It’s often marketed as an alternative to tobacco smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that e-cigarettes have some potential health benefits to cigarette smokers, but it warns that young people and pregnant women should avoid them.

Flavored e-cigarette products, which trouble some California lawmakers because of their appeal to young people, make up a growing percentage of sales. They now account for about a fifth of e-cigarette sales in most states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I’ve always been anti-tobacco and anti-nicotine and anti-smoking,” said Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, author of SB 38 and SB 39. “I remember the first time I had a cigarette. … It was the worst tasting thing in the world,” he said.

But add a flavor, say cotton candy, to the product, and suddenly it could provide an appeal to younger users, who could then become addicted, he said.

No cartoons on vaping ads

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton, wrote the bill that would restrict e-cigrarette advertisements because he was alarmed by recent Food and Drug Administration reports that show a skyrocketing increase among middle and high school students. Almost 21 percent of high school students reporting using an e-cigarette last year, according to the FDA study.

“The numbers are startling. According to the FDA, use of e-cigarettes among high schoolers has increased 80 percent in the last year alone. As a father of four school-aged children, I believed that something needed to be done,” Cunningham said in an email statement.

The proposals are not the Legislature’s first attempts to regulate vaping. It is illegal to sell vape products to civilians under the age of 21. Military service members can buy them at age 18. Vape cartridges and solutions must be sold in child-resistant packaging and also must be kept behind the counter until sold. Customers must verify their age at the time of purchase and again on delivery.

E-cigarettes have passionate supporters. Users of the products packed a Sacramento City Council meeting in October where leaders discussed a ban on flavored tobacco products.

The industry also has hired a lobbyist, Thomas Kiklas, to fight the bills.

“What Jordan Cunningham is trying to do, it’s ignorant,” said Ray Story, CEO and founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. “Our strategy is to continue to communicate and provide factual data that can assist Mr. Cunningham to make a logical decision, not based on fear-mongering and not based on this skewed news.”

Story’s website is filled with news releases generally promoting e-cigarette products as safe and condemning government efforts to restrict them. He said he has spent years advocating on behalf of the e-cigarette industry, and argues the California bills are extreme.

“There’s so many things that are happening right now, where they’re just throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

A ‘de facto’ ban on e-cigarettes

Still, he acknowledged the industry can improve. He favors age verification requirements, limits to the amount nicotine used in vape products and restrictions on what appears to be marketing toward youth.

“The industry has to take responsibility as well,” he said.

He criticized JUUL Labs, the maker of a highly concealable e-cigarette device in popular use by middle and high school students, of being “irresponsible and idiotic.”

In November, JUUL Labs announced it was restricting the sale of its mango-, fruit-, creme- and cucumber-flavored products several of its flavored products to its website, which utilizes age verification. The company also shut down its social media accounts.

“Our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products. But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it,” the company said in a statement.

Story defended the value of vaping, particularly as a way to help people curb smoking tobacco, “which is the deadliest product on earth and has been for decades.”

He said a ban on flavored e-cigarette products in California would be “a de facto ban” of all e-cigarette products because of its potential impact on the industry’s revenue.

Hill, the Democratic lawmaker, said he wants to restrict e-cigarettes because 3.6 million middle and high school students are vaping, and that’s double the number that were doing so in 2017.

He acknowledged that a ban on all flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products would also affect adults who otherwise could legally purchase such a product, but he said it is a necessary step to curb an epidemic.

“I would encourage (anyone upset about the bills) to look at the surge in usage (by minors),” he said. “It’s in the broader best interest of our youth to do that.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.