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The state Legislature will introduce several bills for debate in a special session Wednesday which, again, will seek to wrongly equate vapor products – including electronic cigarettes – with tobacco, ban vaping in vape shops and allow local jurisdictions to tax tobacco. A bill seeking to equate tobacco products and vapor products was defeated in an Assembly policy committee last month.
Locally, Costa Mesa concurrently is trying to restrict the use of vapor products in public parks and city buildings. Although vape shops are excluded from the city’s proposed plan, we urge restraint – such as San Clemente’s “wait and see” approach – which avoids creating a patchwork of inconsistent laws.
Vapor products are technology products, not tobacco products, and we oppose equating the two. Even California’s State Board of Equalization says vapor products do not fall under the current definition of a cigarette or tobacco product, since they do not contain tobacco and are not subject to California’s excise tax. We couldn’t agree more.
Scientific research shows that vapor products represent a significant alternative to combustible tobacco, which, for many smokers in California and millions across the country, is the only way they have been able to reduce or eliminate their habit of smoking cigarettes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has acknowledged that vapor products may be a viable option to help smokers who are otherwise unable or unwilling to quit.
Our opponents continue to cite underage usage fueled by candy-themed e-liquid flavors. Let’s be clear. We are adamantly opposed to minors using vapor products and fully support age-restrictions on their use. These products are intended only for adult smokers and adult vapers. While some teens continue to experiment, it is vital that Orange County parents and guardians talk to their children about not using any age-restricted product, whether alcohol, tobacco or e-cigs.
Coincidentally, a recent study published in the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information found that “candy” vapor flavors appealed much more to adults than non-smoking teens. Many other studies confirm that the variance in flavors were “very important” in people’s efforts to stop smoking and switch to e-cigs.
Let’s also not overlook the fact that vapor products are approximately 95 percent less harmful than smoking, according to many scientific researchers and cardiologists.
These truths make clear that the vapor debate should focus on getting adult smokers to make the switch to vaping, rather than punish an industry that provides thousands of new jobs throughout the county and state, millions of dollars in tax revenue and, most importantly, the potential to positively impact the lives of California’s nearly 4 million smokers.
Lowering the number of cigarette smokers would help reduce California’s annual $18 billion burden in economic and health care costs due to combustible tobacco. Fewer smokers also will contribute to cost savings among Medicaid patients, where the prevalence of tobacco smoking is twice the general public and about 45 percent of California smokers receive Medicaid.
Vapor products provide real economic and societal benefits. So why burden an industry with excessive regulation and unfair taxes? The motive may be more about money than the public health.
Consider that tobacco tax revenues are declining as consumption rates continue to fall. The sad truth is that California received $1.52 billion in excise taxes and settlements in 2014, but only used 4.3 percent on prevention and cessation programs.
We continue to support sensible regulation, such as prohibitions on selling to minors, reasonable licensing requirements and child-resistant packaging. Extending tobacco regulations and taxes to vapor products is harmful and will only discourage smokers from switching to e-cigs and keep smokers smoking.
Mark Burton is co-president of the Southern California chapter of the Smoke-Free
By Mark Burton.