Flavored-Vape Bans Take Center Stage

White House, Congress, states review policies surrounding e-cigarettes
Photograph: Shutterstock

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — At the White House on Nov. 22, President Donald Trump met with a variety of stakeholders and interested parties for a listening session to discuss costs and benefits of potential bans on flavored nicotine vapor products and to discuss initiatives short of outright bans that may reduce youth access to, or experimentation with, nicotine vapor products.

The meeting, which was broadcast live online by ABC News, capped a busy week in which a U.S. House of Representatives committee approved a bill banning all flavored tobacco products and other restrictions, and legislators in Massachusetts approved legislation that would codify, in part, a vapor ban imposed by Gov. Charlie Baker by emergency order this past fall—and go even further to ban other flavored tobacco products.

National Level

Prior to President’s Trump’s White House vaping summit, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health took testimony and ultimately recommended legislation introduced by Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Pallone introduced the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic of 2019 act in April and the bill was referred to and heard in his Committee.

Pallone’s Bill, House Bill 2339, passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Nov. 19. Pallone’s bill would do the following:

  • Increase the legal purchase age for tobacco and vapor products from 18 to 21.
  • Prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products and vapor products, including menthol cigarettes (effective one year after date of enactment).
  • Prohibit remote online retail sales of tobacco products and vapor products, other than face-to-face interactions.
  • Prohibit the marketing of vapor products to anyone under 21 years of age.

In Massachusetts

In November in Boston, House Bill 4196 was approved by the state senate and sent to Gov. Baker. If Baker signs the bill into law, Massachusetts would ban the sale of flavored nicotine vapor and tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes; tax e-cigarettes at 75% of the wholesale price; cap the nicotine level in electronic nicotine vapor products; and increase retailer penalties for sales violations. This legislation follows an emergency order by Baker that was the subject of a recent legal challenge. Like Baker’s order, the bill would ban almost all nicotine vapor products and go further in banning additional products and creating new taxes.

Much of the rhetorical support for flavor bans cites both increased youth experimentation with nicotine vapor products and an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths associated with certain products. It is worth noting that two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that all of those incidents to date seem to be related not to legal nicotine vapor products but rather to illicit THC (tetrayhydrocannabinol) vapor products, many of which may have used vitamin E acetate as a thickening agent in the liquid.

Commercially sold nicotine vapor products contain no such additives and increasingly appear unrelated to the recent outbreak. The announcement from the CDC followed prior indications of the same from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and from public health experts who have studied more than 2,000 cases in recent months and identified illicit THC vapor products as the near-certain cause of the outbreak.

If the flurry of activity in recent months makes one thing clear, it is that it is incumbent upon all of us as stakeholders—who legally and responsibly sell products to adults—to engage in the legislative and regulatory processes to both educate government officials and ensure that our voice is heard in this continuing debate.

Thomas Briant is the executive director of NATO, a tobacco retailing association based in Lakeville, Minn. Reach him at info@natocentral.org.

[Editor's Note: Since the posting of this story, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law.]

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