Two Tobacco Bills Go In, None Remain

A bill to hold electronic cigarettes to the same regulations as traditional cigarettes failed on Wednesday after it met one amendment too many in the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization.

In the same committee, another anti-tobacco bill was withdrawn after it became clear it wouldn’t pass the committee, the bill’s author said.

SB 140, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), was designed to require e-cigarettes to follow the same public-area rules for traditional cigarettes. Leno said he was willing to accept three substantial amendments of the bill — but was not going to accept the amendment that said e-cigarettes were not a tobacco product.

“I no longer believe in it,” Leno said after the committee voted to adopt all of the amendments. “I disassociate myself from it.”

SB 151, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), also was supposed to appear before the Committee on Governmental Organization on Wednesday. Hernandez pulled it off the agenda with a tersely worded statement.

“While 75% of Americans support raising the purchase age for tobacco products to 21, it became obvious today that less than 50% of the Assembly G.O. committee members agree,” Hernandez said in a written statement.

“Unfortunately, Big Tobacco is following their usual playbook and trying to kill this bill quietly in a committee, where they only need a handful of legislators, representing less than 14% of all Californians, to stop it,” Hernandez said.

Attempts to get comments on Wednesday from the chair and vice-chair of the Governmental Organization committee were unsuccessful. A staffer for committee chair Assembly member Adam Gray (D-Merced) did respond but was unable to reach Gray by deadline. Vice chair Assembly member Eric Linder (R-Corona) did not respond to interview requests.

“I’m not at all surprised it went the way it did,” said Richard Barnes, clinical professor at the UC-San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “That has always been the case, that the G.O. committee has been the place where tobacco bills go to die. That’s been word around the Capitol for a long time.”

The hearing on the Leno bill was unusual, in that the author did not accept all committee amendments — so when a motion to move the bill came, it included the contested amendment, one the author refused to include.

“Nicotine only comes from one place, and that’s tobacco. And by federal definition it’s a tobacco product,” Leno said. E-cigarettes need to be defined that way, Leno said, or the bill would end up not really doing anything.

“I support the second, third and fourth amendments, but if you are moving this forward with that first amendment,” Leno said, “not only do I walk away from the bill,” he said, but every other group supporting the bill walks away, too.

“It is no longer our bill,” Leno said. “It can no longer move forward with our blessings, if it’s not defined as a tobacco product.”

Assembly member Henry Perea (D-Fresno) said that any vape shop owner who wants to sell e-cigarettes advertised as having no nicotine would have to petition FDA to have those products be considered smoking cessation devices.

“What concerns me,” Perea said, “is I worry that the shop owner and three or four people working there, do they have the time for that process? We’ll have individuals caught up in all of this.”

“That’s a false argument, I’m sorry to say,” Leno said. “No one is going to have to go to the FDA.”

After the motion to accept all four amendments, a second motion was proposed to accept only three of those amendments in an initial vote. The conversation devolved into whether or not that motion would be out of order or take precedent, and a point of order that since the author already accepted three of the motions, the committee couldn’t vote on it. Finally, the committee voted on whether or not to accept the substitute motion for just three of the amendments, and decided not to accept it.

The committee is holding the bill, but the author has dropped all support of it. The Hernandez bill also is being held, pending possible advancement by the author.

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Capitol Desk