Lawmakers, e-cigarette advocates agree on banning sales to kids
There's a bit of common ground emerging in the contentious debate over the regulation of electronic cigarettes.
Many e-cigarettes users, lawmakers and public health officials support bans on sales to children.
The devices deliver a "hit" of nicotine — and usually a puff of flavored vapor.
New Jersey and Philadelphia have enacted laws against selling the devices to children younger than 18; Delaware's State House cleared a similar proposal last week.
"We're taking it one step at a time. The first step is we really want to take it out of the hands of minors," said Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Many public officials are anxious to see how — and if — the federal government will regulate e-cigarettes, but Rattay and other officials worry that a growing number of young people have already tried "vaping."
It's important to take action now, Rattay said.
"It seems like in the public health and public policy world, every step we take to try to decrease the number of people addicted to nicotine, the industry finds clever, innovative ways to continue to keep people addicted," she said.
In the Delaware legislation, lawmakers use the term "tobacco substitutes." In a Pennsylvania proposal, the bill crafters use the term "alternative nicotine devices" in an effort to stay ahead of e-cigarette "innovation."
"Most people think of nicotine coming from tobacco plants," Rattay said. "But one of the innovations is that nicotine can also be extracted from tomatoes."
The Pennsylvania Medical Society is backing the bid to cut off e-cigarettes sales to minors.
"Most states are very responsibly passing legislation designed to ensure that these products -- they're adult products -- are not being sold to minors. That's something that my organization supports very strongly," said Julie Woessner, president of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association.
Meanwhile, her nonprofit group opposes a proposal to add a "sin" tax to the price of e-cigarettes in New Jersey, and Woessner said the Garden State's existing ban on vaping indoors is "misguided."
"Some states are trying to go further and take away rights and make these products seem less attractive to adults," Woessner said. "Sometimes governments step in a little too quickly trying to protect us from ourselves — and make a mistake."
Delaware state Sen. Patricia Blevins said she's expecting consensus for the ban for people age 17 and younger.
That consensus evaporates when it comes rules against puffing an e-cigarette in public places. State lawmakers are much more cautious about that, although an indoor ban begins in Philadelphia this summer.