The last place the American Cancer Society expected to be was opposing state regulations that make e-cigarette sales illegal to minors, however that is exactly where they now find themselves.
The American Cancer Society doesn’t want kids to use e-cigarettes, they don’t want anyone to use any nicotine products, but they do object to what they refer to as “Trojan horse” legislation. These proposed bills generally appear good for public health but in reality they set off a chain reaction that could addict more people to nicotine and roll back progress against clean air. These comments come from Cathy Callaway of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
The danger in many of these bills is that they try to cover too many bases. While many people will agree that e-cigarettes should not be sold to minors, these bills lump that positon in with a variety of others that either ban outdoor and/or public use, or restrict access to the devices all together. This is why many health advocacy groups are now campaigning against e-cigarette bills. While even though they agree on the limitations for youth access, the wide-reaching bills could create a headache for adult users and for future regulation. When it comes to a device that has the potential to improve people’s health and longevity, any restrictions, or being lumped in with the disease causing traditional cigarette, is a rocky and dangerous road for e-cigarettes to be forced to go down.
Currently, forty-one states have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18. In the states where e-cigarette sales to minors are not outlawed, many, in fact most businesses choose to restrict sales to minor as a business policy. Out of those 41 states, 17 of them have state laws that use language that seem to suggest e-cigarettes are being regulated much like tobacco. Erika Sward is with the American Lung Association, another organization that is fighting state regulation. She says some of the state laws will change the e-cigarettes industry by imposing hefty taxes and including them in current smoke-free laws that apply to combustible tobacco products.
Sward also adds that regulation does not necessarily help tobacco products away from the youth population. Kids have always found ways to get cigarettes, and research shows this. She believes there are more effective ways of keeping cigarettes away from teens rather than just prohibiting sales. Sward specifically believes raising taxes is an effective method, as it can often price teenagers out of the market.
This, however, come across as nothing more than a “sin tax,” something Big Tobacco has fought for years. With such little research available on e-cigarettes, this seems like jumping the gun on the fledgling industry that stands to actually provide a product with significant public health benefits. Many lawmakers say what they are trying to do is strike a balance of protecting our kids without crushing a new, and booming, industry. Minnesota is now the only state to tax e-cigarettes, however, a tax in North Carolina is scheduled to take effect in July. Some lawmakers say they felt pressure to compromise on certain issues so they could quickly ban e-cigarette sales to minors.
Reynolds American, which owns both R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., believes that taxing e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes would be a significant detriment to the potential health benefits e-cigarettes could provide. Reynold spokesman Richard Smith believes raising taxes would “place hurdles that would discourage cigarette smokers from considering switching” to e-cigarettes.” Altria Group, also known as Philip Morris, sells several e-cigarette brands through their company Nu Mark. While they agree with Reynolds, they also remain active in the state level legislation on e-cigarettes. “We’ve been pretty active at the state level in working with legislators on minimum-age-of-purchase laws,” Altria spokesman David Sutton says. “We’ve been working with legislators to make sure that vapor products are only available to adults.”
Youth use aside, it is important to ensure that e-cigarettes remain unrestricted and taxes at a reasonable level for their adult users. There are many other public health advocates that say e-cigarettes have the potential to help smokers quit, including the American Heart Association. There is no long-term data to show their effectiveness, however e-cigarettes seem to work as well, in most cases better, as other nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum, says Thomas Glynn, a consulting professor in cancer prevention at Stanford University.
“The scientific evidence is still pretty sparse,” Glynn says. “There are so many kinds of e-cigs, it’s difficult to make any kind of statement about them.” Still, he says, “Some people will stop smoking because of them.”
A December review by The Cochrane Collaborative, as well as a review last August by the Society for the study of Addiction, are just two organization that have analyzed evidence and confirmed the effectiveness as e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid. That is why Glynn, and many others, believe it is a true a shame to tax or regulate e-cigarettes out of existence if they have the potential to help people quit smoking. While nicotine is harmful, it is less dangerous than conventional tobacco, that when smoked which kills more than 480,000 Americans a year.
While they are against many of the states’ proposed regulations, The American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association still do not condone the use of e-cigarettes, however their opposition of these bills has put them on the same side of the debate as e-cigarette companies and users. Surprisingly, this makes a lot of sense since in reality everyone concerned is working toward a better and healthier public. However some e-cigarette industry professionals are supporting bills that support their own interest. According to Callaway with the American Cancer Society lawmakers in 26 states are considering e-cigarette bills in the current legislative session. Several of these bills would limit local action against e-cigarettes, such as smoking bans or increased taxes. Some e-cigarette company support these bills as they believe it secures their industry a fairer marketplace without largely inflating taxes and restricting use.
The important thing to remember, is jumping too quickly to regulate could demolish the industry and leave the thousands that are benefiting from e-cigarettes currently without a way to successfully kick that nasty tobacco habit. As the country waits for answers from the FDA on their position on e-cigarette regulation, many states just continue to jump the gun, trying quickly to reign in an industry that is growing faster than scientists and lawmakers can keep up with. It is vitally important that kids do not become hooked on e-cigarettes, but just like with traditional cigarettes, we know that it is going to happen and we also know that it’s going to happen even if there is a law prohibiting youth from buying them. It is hopeful that e-cigarette opponents and proponents can work together on common goals, such as working to keep kids away from developing a nicotine habit. We can but hope that both sides recognize their other common goals, such as improving public health, and work together to help people quit smoking and save thousands of their lives.