Electronic cigarettes are a fairly new item on the market – they look like cigarettes, but don’t produce smoke or ash. But they’re also sparking debate on how they should be regulated and taxed. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler on the e-cigarettes bill that state lawmakers just approved.
The bill puts e-cigarettes into a new category of alternative nicotine products, and says those products, like tobacco products, are off limits to kids under 18. Rep. Stephanie Kunze of the Columbus suburb of Hilliard sponsored the bill, which she says was sparked by recent stats showing a doubling in the number of middle and high school students trying e-cigarettes. Kunze says the new category is appropriate because, while most e-cigarettes do contain nicotine, there isn’t enough data to show that they are dangerous beyond the potential of nicotine addiction.
“Until these studies come out on the actual effects of e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products," Kunze said, "I think it’s a little premature to lump them into a category that we have years and years of history on as being harmful.”
But more than two dozen Democrats in the House voted against the bill, saying it didn’t go far enough. Rep. Nickie Antonio of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood wanted e-cigarettes to be labeled, regulated and taxed just like regular cigarettes are.
“Should we find down the road that they’re not harmful, then give them a new category once the testing is in. So I guess my question is," Antonio said, "why move so quickly now? Part of the reason, I believe, is that Big Tobacco is the sponsor of this bill and bills across the country.”
Kunze readily admits that Lorillard, the third largest cigarette maker in the country and a recent buyer of an electronic cigarette manufacturer, was involved in crafting this legislation. But she says that was helpful so that the measure could address the latest alternative nicotine products, such as suckers and lozenges. And she says there’s nothing in the bill that prevents changing the taxes on e-cigarettes when more studies are done on them.
“We don’t know how harmful they are, said Kunze, "What if there’s a chemical in there that’s more harmful than a cigarette and we’ve settled on only taxing them at the rate of a traditional cigarette. We could have gone higher. So I think it’s important to realize we can still have that option even with the new definition and the new category.”
But Antonio points there are also no studies that show e-cigarettes or the vapor they produce is harmless, which is why she wanted them to be included in the state’s indoor smoking ban, or that they will help people quit their traditional cigarette habit.
“There is no conclusive evidence that they can be categorized as a smoking cessation aid," Antonio said, "The other thing is, they’re also, because of this special category, are falling outside of the Indoor Clean Air Act.”
Kunze says when she started working on the bill to limit kids’ access to e-cigarettes last fall, it had the support of major anti-smoking health groups such as the American Cancer Society. Antonio says that support fell off when e-cigarettes were put into the alternative nicotine products category instead of being regulated as tobacco products. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.