Minors banned from buying e-cigarettes under bills passed by Missouri lawmakers

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Alex Stuckey

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JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri minors could be banned from purchasing electronic cigarettes or “vaping” products under legislation passed in both the Missouri House and Senate today.

Missouri joins a growing number of states attempting to address the sale and use of electronic cigarettes while waiting for the Federal Drug Administration to release long-awaited plans for the regulation of these products.

House bill sponsor Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said restricting minors from using these products was a good first step until more information about e-cigarettes was available.

“Given what we know now about e-cigarettes, about vapor, I think this is a great step,” Rowden said.

Electronic cigarettes are often electronic devices that heat a nicotine solution that can be inhaled like smoke but contains none of the toxins in tobacco cigarettes. The vapors can come in a range of flavors and critics charge that some are marketed specifically toward children. A Congressional report released Monday claimed e-cigarette advertising and events are frequently targeted to minors.

2013 Center for Disease Control study indicated that one in 10 high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2012, more than twice the percentage that had tried in 2011.

“I want to make sure kids (under 18) are not able to buy these in the state,” Senate bill sponsor Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, said during Senate’s debate Tuesday.

The nearly $2 billion dollar industry of e-cigarettes and other “vapor products” is unregulated at the federal level. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been working on regulations since 2011 but has not yet issued any rules.

At least 28 states have stepped in to ban sales to minors. Only Minnesota has a specific tax on e-cigarettes and other states including New Jersey, Washington and Utah have considered a specific tax, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While some states have grouped e-cigarettes with tobacco products, at least seven have passed bills advanced by the industry to create a separate definition as “alternative nicotine products” or “vapor products.” The Missouri proposal distinguishes these terms from tobacco products.

Both Missouri bills would exempt e-cigarettes from taxes and regulations other tobacco products face — a fact Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, could not support.

“We’re protecting big tobacco companies,” Schaaf said today.

In the House, Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Couer, charged that this would prevent any regulations on these products and that the language was pushed by the tobacco industry.

“We are precluding this from any future taxation or regulation as tobacco products,” Schupp said. “We are letting these companies off the hook.”

Rowden said the law could be changed as more was learned about the risks of these products.

The bills are SB 841 and HB 1690.

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