Soapbox

Vapor products aren’t the same as cigarettes

Jeff Hess, left, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape in Redding, celebrates with other vaping product supporters after a bill to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products stalled in an Assembly committee on July 8.
Jeff Hess, left, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape in Redding, celebrates with other vaping product supporters after a bill to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products stalled in an Assembly committee on July 8. The Associated Press

The vapor industry continues to support sensible regulation, such as prohibitions on selling to minors, reasonable licensing requirements and child-resistant packaging.

Therefore, it was a big surprise when Sen. Mark Leno refused to accept the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee’s amendments that would have adopted these exact measures to his bill.

Leno’s new bill, Senate BillX2 5, is one of several pieces of legislation to be debated in a special session this month, which again will seek to equate vapor products and e-cigarettes with tobacco. Some of the other new bills call for banning vaping in vape shops and allowing local jurisdictions to tax tobacco.

We believe vapor products are technology products, not tobacco products, and are adamantly opposed to equating the two. Simply put, vapor products contain zero tobacco. They have quickly created a new industry that provides thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in revenue and, most importantly, the potential to improve the health of millions of people seeking an alternative to cigarettes.

The debate should be about public health rather than oppressive regulations and taxes.

Smoking costs California $18 billion a year in economic losses, including $9.8 billion in direct medical expenses. While California’s smoking death rate is lower than the national average, 40,000 adult smokers still die each year.

While e-cigs and vapor products are not marketed as cessation devices, most scientific evidence concludes that e-cigs help smokers stop, including a study conducted on behalf of the American Heart Association. Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged that vapor products may be a viable option to help smokers who are otherwise unable or unwilling to quit.

Lowering the number of cigarette smokers would reduce the hundreds of billions of dollars lost each year in economic and health care costs due to smoking, particularly for Medicaid patients, who are twice as likely to smoke as the general public. About 45 percent of California smokers receive Medi-Cal.

Scientific research shows that vapor products represent significant alternatives to combustible tobacco. While appropriate regulations are needed, extending tobacco regulations and taxes to e-cigarettes is harmful and will only discourage smokers from switching to vapor products.

We believe the motive is not public health, but possibly money.

Consider that tobacco tax revenues are declining as consumption rates continue to fall. The sad truth is that states this year will collect $25.6 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements, but they will spend less than 2 percent of that revenue on prevention and cessation programs. California received $1.52 billion in excise taxes and settlements in 2014, but only used 4.3 percent on prevention and cessation programs.

The federal Tobacco Control Act was created to regulate tobacco because of the serious health consequences of smoking. Since vapor products contain no tobacco, common sense dictates that they should not be treated the same as combustible cigarettes.

While we applaud the efforts of state public health officials and the decrease in smoking thus far, Californians may not realize the full economic, public health and societal benefits from vapor products if they continue to be confused with smoking and the tobacco industry.

Phil Daman is president of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association.

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