Industry support for e-cig ban deserves much skepticism
The sellers of addictive substances will try to convince you otherwise, but they’re in the business of getting people hooked on their products. If they say they support legislation that would restrict that business, it’s wise to be skeptical.
Such is the case for a pair of bipartisan bills in the Michigan Senate that would prohibit minors from buying and using e-cigarettes.
The bills, expected to be taken up in the Senate, have the support of the industry representatives but not from groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society and the Department of Community Health.
That’s a red flag, and lawmakers should pay attention.
The debate here isn’t whether states should restrict the use of e-cigarettes to adults – nobody, at least publicly, opposes that – but whether e-cigarettes should be regulated as a tobacco product.
Organizations such as the American Heart Association say they worry that language in the Michigan legislation, and in a number of other states, could exempt electronic cigarettes from tobacco regulations such as workplace restrictions or taxes on sales.
The association’s Shelly Kiser, reacting to similar legislation in Ohio, told the Toledo Blade that the tobacco industry is pushing similar bills nationwide. She said that research shows that high taxes and indoor smoking bans are the two most effective ways to steer kids away from using tobacco.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to regulate e-cigarettes, but it’s been slow to respond. In the meantime, states and even some cities are forging their own regulatory responses.
Those responses include everything from age restrictions to bans on use in public similar to bans on smoking. It’s the latter that companies such as Altria, which is on record supporting the Michigan bill, are fighting tooth and nail as they battle for market share in this fast-growing segment.
Although Altria may support age restrictions, make no mistake: the company packages and markets its products in ways that appeal to young people. The liquid nicotine used in the devices comes in flavors such as bubblegum and cola, and even where age restrictions are in place, minors are finding access through dealers online.
A 2012 survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that recent use among high school students grew from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 2.8 percent in 2012 and from 0.6 to 1.1 percent for middle school students.
We support the instincts of lawmakers who want to protect minors from getting access to electronic cigarettes which, while likely safer than their tobacco counterparts, are indisputably a gateway to nicotine addiction.
With that said, legislators should carefully review the potential implications of these bills and adjust accordingly.