E-Cigarette Legislation Moves Along

Electronic cigarettes must abide by the limitations and regulations imposed on tobacco products, according to a vote this week by the California Senate Committee on Health.

Resistance to the bill was strong, as many dozens of Californians traveled to Sacramento to queue up at the microphone and voice their opposition at the April 8 hearing.

According to state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), author of SB 140, the bill is straightforward:

“This bill, very simply, will include e-cigarettes within California’s smoke-free laws, and within the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act, otherwise known as STAKE,” Leno said.

Consumers using e-cigarettes inhale a vapor of nicotine, flavors and other chemicals. It’s known as vaping, and hundreds of vape shops have cropped up across California.

Stefan Didak testified at the hearing, saying he represented about 110 small businesses in the state as co-president of the Northern California chapter of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA). 

“This change in statute is troublesome and entirely inappropriate,” Didak said. “Electronic cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking.”

Didak said many people switch from traditional cigarettes to vaping, and it has changed people’s lives.

“Regulation and classification of vapor products should be approached from the position of endeavoring to protect the public health from the death and disease caused by combustible tobacco,” Didak said, “rather than paving the way for taxation, regulation and operational burdens for vapor products so that adults are no longer incentivized to switch to a safer alternative.”

But safer doesn’t mean safe, Leno said.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes is derived from tobacco and is highly addictive,” Leno said. “This is potentially a serious public health crisis in California.”

The state Department of Public Health has determined that secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes is a public health threat, with at least 10 carcinogens present in its vapor, including nickel and other heavy metals, as well as formaldehyde and benzene.

Non-smokers should not be subjected to that, Leno said. He was particularly concerned about what he said was the fastest-growing segment of the population to take up vaping: those in middle school and high school.

“These flavors are being marketed as Gummi Bear, Mountain Dew and bubble gum,” Leno said. “Is it any surprise these are in the hands of children? And these products are delivering nicotine.”

As for the concern that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes and so adults should be allowed or even encouraged to shift their habit to e-cigarettes, Leno said that part of the law actually doesn’t change.

“This bill doesn’t ban e-cigarettes,” he said. “It just bans where they can be used.”

Introduction of SB 140 came on the heels of a bill to end the vaccine exemption, which had a number of anti-vaccination outbursts and insults. So committee chairman Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) had a short leash with the audience during discussion of the e-cigarette bill.

“There will be no public noise at this point,” Hernandez said, when several members of the audience started to clap. And when someone shouted out a comment toward Leno, Hernandez had had enough.

He had the heckler escorted out. “That was totally inappropriate,” Hernandez said. “We will not have that.”

The bill passed committee on a 6-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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Capitol Desk Public Health