E-cig legislative roundup: Possible ban on e-cig sales to minors in Montana; Michigan governor vetoes e-cig bills; Island of Hawaii bans e-cigs in public places


A bill was introduced during this session of the Montana State Legislature to ban e-cigarette sales to minors. I find this is a tad odd because the Food and Drug Administration is considering rules to ban e-cigarette sales to minors nationwide. However, I have no idea what the timeline is for those final FDA rules — it could be another year or more. The FDA draft rules released several months ago generated 135,000 comments which the FDA is still sorting through.

According to this Independent story on the bill, Montana is just one of 10 states in the country that still allows e-cigarette sales to minors. This story is pretty sympathetic to a local vaping store. The owner claims that he will sell e-cigarettes to kids under 18 only if they have a permission slip from their parent and that he never sells nicotine products to kids. (Colour me cynical …. but my bullshit alarm was going off somewhat on that one. In any case, I’ve seen plenty of kids buying e-cig products pretty easily at Montana minimarts, all this guy has to do is sell the inhaler.)

“I do know of quite a few kids that have curtailed their [tobacco] habit or quit it all together by replacing it with something that’s not nearly as harmful as the tobacco products,” said store co-owner Mark Townsend.

Well, maybe, but again, my bullshit alarm is going off. The data is pretty sketchy about whether or not e-cigs help people quit smoking. I can believe for a 20- or 30-year smoker who has tried everything else, why not use e-cigarettes to quit? But, where the store owner is wrong is studies have shown that more kids are using e-cigs now rather than cigarettes not to quit smoking, but because they are easy to get and kids have been given the idea they’re harmless. They’re going straight to e-cigs to begin with. And that’s nicotine. And that’s still turning them into nicotine junkies.

Anyway, according to Alex Clark, legislative director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, his group has a concern with language in the bill lumping e-cigarettes in with tobacco products. Clarks calls this “an intentional, almost politically motivated mischaracterization.” The whole issue of lumping e-cigs in with tobacco products is pretty controversial, as we will see in Michigan.

Michigan bills vetoed

Gov. Rick Snyder this week vetoed bills regulating e-cigarettes and it sounds like a good thing, because it sounded like some sneaky kind of pro-e-cigarette industry end-around. I don’t have all the details, but one of the problems with these bills is they specifically designated e-cigs as a non-tobacco product, but would exclude other non-tobacco nicotine products from this definition (like nicotine gum or other types of inhalers, I assume). The legislation would have banned e-cig sales to minors. Like I said earlier, this is happening soon on a national level anyway.

Snyder vetoed the bills, saying the bills did not go far enough and would have just created confusion about e-cig regulation when the FDA is addressing this on a federal level. It’s telling to me that health organizations praised the vetoes, while the loudest critic was a Republican legislator, which makes me suspicious about what his real motives are.

“We need to make sure that e-cigarettes and other nicotine-containing devices are regulated in the best interest of public health,” Snyder said in a statement. “It’s important that these devices be treated like tobacco products and help people become aware of the dangers e-cigarettes pose.”

According to this story, the Michigan State Medical Society, which represents 15,000 doctors, praised Snyder.

“These bills would have been a giant step backwards, and Gov. Snyder was wise to veto them,” said James Grant, M.D., the group’s president.

Hawaii bans e-cigs in public places

The Island of Hawaii (not the whole state, just the Big Island), recently passed an ordinance banning e-cigs in public places islandwide. Essentially, e-cigs will be treated the same as cigarettes. Not only can you not use an e-cig in a bar or a restaurant, but they are banned at beaches and parks. (Maybe a bit much since e-cigs don’t have the littering issue that cigarettes have.)

More and more cities are banning e-cigs in public places as people simply don’t trust that the steam from e-cigs is completely benign. I don’t think there is a statewide public ban on e-cigs yet, but I like that they are getting people’s attention.