Lawmakers in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly passed bills this week banning the sales of electronic nicotine delivery devices to minors.
The bills would prohibit the sales of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, as they are commonly known, to those under the age of 18. Current law allows those products to be purchased by anyone.
E-cigs are battery-powered devices used to heat a liquid nicotine solution and create vapor that is inhaled. The use of the sleek, smokeless devices, especially among teenagers, is increasing rapidly here and across the country.
E-cigarette use among U.S. high school students more than doubled from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey.
That trend has doctors and public health officials worried. E-cigs are touted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products but they are not without health risks.
Those who use the devices are still ingesting nicotine which is a highly addictive stimulant that can cause a number of other health risks.
The city of Washington cited some of those risks in the no-smoking ordinance it passed last year which also bans the use of e-cigarettes.
One of the main concerns regarding e-cigs is their potential to be a gateway drug, with nicotine addiction leading to more tobacco use. The same CDC survey suggested at least 160,000 students who had never tried conventional cigarettes tried e-cigs.
Given those concerns, the Legislature took prudent action even though the votes did not come without some turbulence.
Lawmakers from both parties objected that the bills didn’t go far enough because both exempted e-cigarettes from the state’s 17-cent per pack cigarette tax and stated they could not be regulated as tobacco products.
They accused the sponsors of the bills of caving into the tobacco lobbyists whose clients are gobbling up e-cig companies, injecting millions of dollars into the market and banking on a bright future for the devices.
Proponents of the bills pleaded reality. Subjecting e-cigs to regulation and taxes would have killed the bills’ chances of passage.
Missouri has the lowest cigarette taxes in the country and a strong bias against government regulation. Keeping e-cigs out of the hands of minors was the best they were going to get.