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Legislator seeks to curb teen use of e-cigarettes

Deposit photos/Innovated Captures

Deposit photos/Innovated Captures

Calling the current law fatally flawed and ineffective, a veteran lawmaker wants the state to impose far more restrictions on access to vaping products by teens.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, would for the first time ever regulate as tobacco both the devices used and the inserts that carry the liquids that deliver the nicotine. That, in turn, would subject everyone from manufacturers to retailers – and users – to the same laws that now make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone younger than 18.

It also would give the go-ahead to the Attorney General’s Office, which now runs “sting” operations on retailers to see if they’re checking for ID on cigarette purchases, the power to do the same when someone is selling vaping devices and liquid refills.

Carter’s proposal, SB 1009, is aimed solely at preventing teen use of vaping devices.

But lawmakers also will consider a different attack on the issue of vaping, one that would affect adults. HB 2024, crafted by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would add vaping to existing laws which prohibit smoking in public areas, including offices, bars, restaurants, stores, theaters and the common areas of hotels and apartments.

But Kavanagh has an additional hurdle that Carter does not face.

The original Smoke Free Arizona Act was approved by voters in 2006. That means it can be amended only if he can get three-fourths of both the House and Senate — meaning 45 representatives and 23 senators — to approve.

Carter said she wants to focus on what she sees as the real problem of vaping devices, originally marketed as a way to help adults quit smoking, rapidly becoming popular among teens.

“Due to slick hyper-marketing campaigns, most students think that these products pose no risk,” she said. Add to that the ease of purchase, not just as stores but even on the internet.

That, in turn, has boosted teen use in Arizona alone, with surveys of high schoolers showing that the use within the past month went from 17 percent in 2016 to 26 percent last year.

“Essentially, e-cigarettes, vapes, e-pens or whatever else you want to call them, have become the training wheels to develop future smokers,” she said.

The heart of the problem, Carter said, is that 2013 law created a definition of “vapor products” with the intent of making them off-limits.

“The law was obsolete before it was passed,” she said, saying that’s why she opposed it at the time.

She said that statute failed to account for changes in technology from what were originally e-cigarettes to high-tech vaping devices, even to the point that questions remain whether it’s OK to sell the devices to teens separate from the nicotine-infused inserts.

What SB 1009 would do is expand existing laws that regulate tobacco sales to include all types of “electronic smoking devices” and “any component, part or accessory of the device, whether or not sold separately.” Carter said that not only covers retail sales but also should do away with the ability of people to order these devices online where age cannot be checked.

The Tuesday press conference to provide details of the legislation also included a self-proclaimed “mea culpa” from Will Humble, the former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Years ago, when e-cigarettes were brand new, I really thought the product had a chance of actually being a public health benefit by giving active adult smokers a pathway off their tobacco addiction and transitioning to a tobacco-free life,” he said. “I could not have been more wrong.”

Humble, now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, said he believes the devices provide “no public health benefit that I can tell.” More to the point, he said, has been the unanticipated attractiveness of the devices to teens.

“It’s a huge public health threat by addicting an entire generation of young people to nicotine products,” Humble said. And he said many of these devices have nicotine levels far higher than anyone would get from tobacco products themselves.

“So these young minds are being hard-wired right now to these nicotine products through electronic cigarettes,” he said.

“It’s impairing their ability to learn at schools,” Humble continued. “It’s interrupting their classroom and it’s addicting our kids.”

Humble said much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which he said has been slow in regulating these devices. Humble said as far as he is concerned, they should be classified by federal authorities as “nicotine delivery devices,” a move he said that even could require that they be sold by prescription only.

The FDA, for its part, has been slow at addressing the issue.

It took Commissioner Scott Gottlieb until last year to say he was reconsidering his agency’s views about the health benefits of e-cigarettes as a method of helping adults to quit after seeing data that showed a sharp spike in teen vaping.

At this point the agency has announced an intent to ban the sale of flavored vaping liquids from convenience stores and gas stations, though that has yet to take effect.

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