East Hawaii News

E-Cigarette Legislation Moves Forward

February 11, 2014, 6:26 PM HST
* Updated February 12, 8:58 AM
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Legislation targeting e-cigarettes continues to move forward in the state Legislature.

A bill that would require vendors of the electronic substitutes for cigarettes to be licensed by the state Department of Health was approved by separate committees on Friday and Monday.

The votes came amid strong opposition from e-cigarette companies and vendors, who came armed with a variety of studies they said showed that the vapor their products emit has not been shown to be hazardous, and the level of nicotine it contains is nearly identical to that found in nicotine gum and patches.

E-cigarette manufacturer Volcano cited comments from the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products which said that those who substitute electronic cigarettes for the combustible variety “would probably be significantly reducing their risk.”

However, according to one of the studies, done by the School of Public Health at Drexel University, the aerosol generated by e-cigarettes warrants further research to determine its health effects.

Opponents of Senate Bill 2495 also maintained that e-cigarettes have helped many people quit traditional tobacco products, and moves to restrict or tax them would hamper that effort.

“Enacting unwarranted and unenforceable regulations carries the risk of unintended consequences like sending former smokers back to combustible tobacco products; harming their health and undermining the mandate of the state to promote viable alternatives to known killers,” Volcano said in written testimony.

The bill still must go before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means before coming back for a second floor vote.

Meanwhile, another measure that would raise the general excise tax on tobacco products from 70% to 85% was approved by separate committees on Monday and today.

Senate Bill 2496 would also require that the additional tax revenues would be placed in the state’s cancer research special fund.

A bill that would have classified e-cigarettes as tobacco products subject to the heightened GET rate was shelved last week, reportedly because lawmakers did not want to discourage smokers from switching to the electronic version of cigarettes.

Lawmakers today also took up a proposed ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including those used in e-cigarettes.

Senate Bill 2222 notes that in the past, tobacco companies used fruit, candy and alcohol flavors to target their products to youth.

 It said public health groups have expressed concern about the availability of such “kid-friendly” flavors which are banned in cigarettes by a 2009 federal law.

However, that law does not apply to e-cigarette cartridges, which was one of the reasons the attorneys general of 39 states including Hawaii last year asked the federal government to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

SB2222 was passed today by two Senate committees.

A bill that would ban the use of e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited, and another that would raise the minimum age of those buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, were each approved by a pair of committees last week.

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