#parents | #teensvaping | California vaping bill targets flavors not covered by Trump’s ban

Days after concerns over youth vaping led the Trump administration to announce a partial ban on many e-cigarette pods, California lawmakers on Monday introduced a much stronger measure to outlaw store sales of all flavored tobacco products in the state.

The proposal would go far beyond the federal government’s plan, announced Thursday, for a temporary ban on many candy- and fruit-flavored e-cigarette products that could be lifted if companies can convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the pods are safe.

Senate Bill 793 would prohibit flavored products not covered by the federal ban, including menthol-flavored cartridges and refillable, tank-based vaping systems that can be filled with flavored chemicals. It would also outlaw flavors for combustible cigarettes and cigars, as well as for chewing tobacco and hookah pipes.

The measure does not apply to products sold over the Internet, including those sold by out-of-state businesses.

The legislation was announced by a bipartisan group including Democratic Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and 30 lawmakers led by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), who called flavored vaping products “death bait.”

The legislation is supported by health and youth advocate groups.

“Flavored tobacco products are the gateway to nicotine addiction,” Hill said in a statement. “The tastes and aromas of candy, fruit and other popular flavors insidiously entice children, teens and others into unhealthy and potentially life-threatening habits.”

The lawmakers cited a federal study that found some 5 million middle and high school students in 2019 reported having used e-cigarettes in a recent 30-day period, an increase from 3.6 million the year before. The 2019 survey released by the Center for Disease Control and Food and U.S. Drug Administration found nearly 1 million of the students reporting daily use.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey estimated that nearly two-thirds of high school students who use electronic cigarettes do so with menthol or mint flavors.

“As a mother of two teenage sons, I’ve watched the explosion of teenage vaping in my own community, as well as across the state,” Kounalakis said. “Too many of our kids are already suffering addiction to tobacco products. This flavor ban will help them break free, as well as prevent more young people from becoming addicted in the first place.”

In light of the skyrocketing use, the restrictions announced by the Trump administration last week do not go far enough, said Jim Knox, managing director for the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network in California.

“Anything less than ridding store shelves of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, hookah, cigars, cigarillos and chewing tobacco, diminishes the health and safety of California kids who will find a way to access flavored tobacco anywhere retailers are able to sell these alluring products,” Knox said Monday, accusing the Trump administration of abandoning a previous vow to ban more flavored vaping products.

The new legislation is likely to be opposed by the tobacco and vaping industries. The Vapor Technology Assn. and Juul Labs Inc, the market leader in e-cigarette products, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A similar attempt by Hill to ban all flavored tobacco products faced opposition from industry groups and was scuttled last year after other lawmakers weakened it, drawing opposition from health groups.

Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), chairman of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, later proposed a narrower bill that would allow flavored products to be sold at age-restricted vape and tobacco stores, and online with age-verification technology.

Gray also would have allowed e-cigarette products with menthol and mint flavors to be sold at other retail stores, including liquor stores and gas stations. The assemblyman held the measure back from a vote last year to consider adding a new tax on vaping products to help pay for enforcement.

Some health groups have criticized the Gray proposal to allow flavored products in vaping shops, citing a recent study by the California Department of Public Health that found that 45% of tobacco and e-cigarette stores sold vaping products to researchers posing as minors.

The new legislation was announced by a coalition of lawmakers that is nearly twice the size as the one behind last year’s similar bill and includes Republican Sen Jim Nielsen of Tehama, as well as leading Democrats including Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin Mullin of South San Francisco.

Still, the new legislation faces a challenging road at the Capitol, where the tobacco industry has held influence in the past. Juul Labs Inc., which holds a majority of the vaping market, spent $388,000 last year on campaign contributions in California, including $120,000 to the state Republican Party.

After it was confronted with public backlash to youth vaping, Juul announced last year that it would stop selling some flavored e-cigarette products and suspended all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the U.S.

The bill is the latest in a series of actions by California officials who are wrestling not only with an increase in vaping use by minors, but also the outbreak of lung-related illness. The Center for Disease Control has reported 2,561 hospitalizations and 52 deaths nationally from lung-related illnesses believed tied to vaping.

In response to the health crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in September calling for state agencies to develop a plan for increased enforcement to reduce illegal vaping by underage users.

Newsom also directed state officials last fall to set aside $20 million for a vaping awareness campaign.

In November, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc. alleging the vaping brand targeted young people through advertising and failed to give warnings about health risks posed by using e-cigarettes with nicotine.

State law bars the sale of vaping devices to people under 21, but the state suit alleges electronic cigarette firms made products with nicotine that appealed to young smokers by marketing flavors such as mango, cool mint, crème brûlée and cucumber.

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