Mass. Minors Buying E-Cigs? Maybe Not For Long.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

I was shocked to find out that minors can buy electronic cigarettes in the state of Massachusetts.

But not for much longer, if a new piece of legislation has its way.

The bill, released today by state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, seeks to fix the loophole that allows the free sale of electronic cigarettes and other nicotine delivery products. Though cigarettes are tightly regulated under the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA and other federal organizations do not currently regulate the sale of alternative nicotine delivery products.

The current state of disarray is caused in part by the development of new tobacco products since the passage of the 2009 act. According to a press release and accompanying fact sheet, Sanchez’s bill would define existing and future tobacco and nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, ensuring that future products would also be subject to regulation. It would restrict sales of any of these products to minors under the age of 18. And it would prevent the use of electronic cigarettes everywhere that smoking is banned, including in the workplace.

Currently, 12 other states regulate the sale of e-cigarettes: California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

The national conversation may be focused on electronic cigarettes, but other nicotine products currently unregulated by the FDA include cigars, dissolvable strips, lozenges, pellets, snuff and chewing tobacco. CommonHealth reported last year that the use of non-cigarette tobacco products has increased 123 percent since 2000, with the biggest surge coming after tax hikes on cigarettes in 2009.

For some, e-cigarettes are a way of breaking — or at least easing off — an addiction to traditional cigarettes. However, little is known about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes: as Jenny Haliski, a spokeswoman for the FDA, told The New York Times, “Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products.”

But this debate of relative benefits and dangers seems tangential to Rep. Sanchez, who sees the thrust of his bill as protecting minors, like his own daughter. “We want to make sure that we’re keeping tobacco out of the hands of children,” he told CommonHealth. “I don’t want my 7-year-old going to the bodega and seeing some tobacco product in colorful packaging, grabbing it, and buying it. Right now, she can.”

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