While I don’t know exactly when Gwynn began using tobacco products, statistics show us that many young people begin using it as early as age 11 and become addicted to it by age 14. Usage seems to be steadily increasing in popularity among adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This organization recently published results of a study on nicotine and tobacco research and the relationship between electronic cigarettes and future tobacco use. The bottom line is that teens that use e-cigarettes are twice as likely to transition to conventional tobacco products.
With this in mind and with the annual Veto Session rapidly approaching, I want us to take a closer look at one particular bill, Senate Bill 841, a bill that was vetoed by the governor but may be considered for override by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 841 involves electronic cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated inhalers that do not contain carcinogens, tar, nor produce second-hand smoke like traditional cigarettes, but they do contain nicotine, as well as various flavorings. E-cigarettes are becoming very popular with people who are trying to quit smoking. Unfortunately, they are also a fad with thousands of young people who are teen “vaping.”
Sold in the U.S. since 2007, today there are more than 465 brands and more than 7,500 flavors of e-cigarettes on the market. Because they have been available for such a short time, little is known about serious health risks involving their usage, though there are reports of burns and nicotine toxicity. Supporters of these devices say they may prove to be considerably less harmful than traditional cigarettes—at least in the short-run.
In April, U.S. government regulators proposed treating electronic cigarettes as tobacco products and sought to ban the sale of them to minors under the age of 18. Nevertheless, reports are that usage is rapidly increasing among young people, and the product seems to be more tempting to the non-smoking youth than conventional cigarettes. The main concern about e-cigarettes is that young people will be drawn to them by the attractive flavors and then become addicted because of their liquid contents containing nicotine. This causes concern because research shows the use of nicotine can harm adolescents’ developing brains. The FDA has yet to regulate these devices the way it regulates other tobacco products, leaving the states to come up with their own regulations. Forty states have already enacted legislation banning sales to minors.
In Missouri, SB 841 was an attempt to regulate this product and sought to do three things: prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18; exempt the devices from traditional tobacco taxes; give the MO Division of Liquor Control the authority to monitor sales of e-cigarettes for legal compliance. The rationale behind this bill is to try and prevent impressionable young people from using the device as a stepping-stone to traditional tobacco usage.
Opponents to the bill claim that e-cigarettes contain nicotine—derived from tobacco—and, therefore, should be subject to tobacco taxes. Supporters of the bill say that nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches all contain nicotine as well, and are not subject to tobacco taxes, so why should the e-cigs be subject to them?
Governor Nixon asserted in his veto message that SB 841 provided special exemptions of taxes and regulations for e-cigarettes. What is ironic about this claim is that there are currently no taxes on the product from which it can be exempted. Furthermore, minors can still buy e-cigarettes in Missouri at this time.
While e-cigarettes are a relatively new product and may actually turn out to be somewhat safer than traditional tobacco, addiction to any nicotine product, especially by young people, should cause concern. I cannot help but be reminded of Tony Gwynn’s final message: “If you aren’t using . . . tobacco, please don’t start. If you are using, try to quit, if not for yourself, then do it for the people you love.”