Lawmakers may consider banning e-cigarette sales to minors

Some local governments in Texas recently have adopted policies regulating the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, and lawmakers may address the issue on a statewide level in the upcoming legislative session. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not finalized proposed federal rules on the sale and use of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices through which nicotine or other vapors are inhaled. The increasing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people and the ability of minors to obtain them have become growing concerns for lawmakers. The National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that use of e-cigarettes by U.S. high school students nationwide rose from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.

Several school districts in Texas have preemptively banned the use of e-cigarettes on campus. At least a dozen cities have adopted ordinances prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Future proposed statewide legislation could seek to ban e-cigarette sales to minors by adding them to existing tobacco regulations.

In Texas, Health and Safety Code, sec. 161.082 prohibits the sale of cigarettes or tobacco products to people under age 18. Cigarettes, as defined under Tax Code, sec. 154.001, are made of “tobacco or tobacco mixed with another ingredient and wrapped or covered with a material other than tobacco.” Tobacco products, defined under Tax Code, sec. 155.001 (15), include cigars, chewing tobacco, and any product that is “made of tobacco or a tobacco substitute and that is not a cigarette.”

Several states recently have defined e-cigarettes separately in statute and prohibited their sale to minors. Some of these proposed laws have faced opposition from groups that favor treating e-cigarettes the same as tobacco for tax and regulatory purposes. Iowa recently enacted such a law, and Michigan legislation is awaiting action from the governor. Before a bill was passed in Florida, critics opposed a provision, later removed, that they said would limit local governments’ power to regulate tobacco products.

Supporters of regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products say it provides the most robust approach for keeping the devices out of the hands of minors and protecting public health. Many e-cigarettes, although tobacco-free, contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Flavored e-cigarettes, in particular, are enticing to youth and could be a gateway to the use of traditional cigarettes or illegal substances, they say.

Opponents of regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products say sales of the devices to minors can and should be banned without subjecting e-cigarettes to the entire regulatory scheme of traditional cigarettes, which would be both unnecessary and inappropriate.

Other opponents of regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products say the devices could offer a safer alternative to cigarettes for those who already smoke heavily and that it would be impulsive to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors without evidence of the health risks.

by Mary Beth Schaefer

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