Commentary by Missouri State Senator Jay Wasson (R-20/Nixa)
Majority Caucus Chairman
E-cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers are battery-powered devices that heat liquid nicotine to create a vapor thatís inhaled. If youíve visited a gas station in the last few years, Iím sure youíve seen them. Their popularity is growing every year. Sales of e-cigarettes during 2013 reached nearly $2 billion.
Some say theyíre helpful in smoking cessation. Others see them just as another way to deliver a highly addictive drug, nicotine, in a possibly safe manner, although no extensive research has proved this at all. Either way, a new industry is upon us, with the need for regulation and scientific research.
Right now, there is none. There are absolutely no age limits on who can buy e-cigarettes, and there are no uniform warning labels on the possible dangers of using the devices. Itís pretty much anything goes, a horrible standard when youíre dealing with a relatively new product.
On Monday, a congressional report was released highlighting the need for the Federal Food and Drug Administration to step in and establish restrictions. The report brought to light some troubling trends.
Six of the companies manufacturing these products spent $59 million on advertising in 2013 alone. And, most of that marketing was geared towards teenagers, utilizing media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with young adults.
Iíve talked to countless parents, members of law enforcement and others, and theyíre seeing these e-cigarettes become more and more popular with teenagers. Flavors, such as cherry, banana, and watermelon, are practically geared to appeal to younger e-cigarette users.
These kids donít understand the risks associated with nicotine, or any negative health effects. Nicotine is considered one of the most highly addictive drugs known to man. Many doctors consider it about as hard to kick as crack cocaine.
The worry is that teenagers will use these products, become addicted to nicotine, and then move on to cigarettes, one of the greatest contributors to health issues in the country. Weíve been fighting for years to reduce the number of smokers. Letting kids have access to these products is counterproductive to that goal.
Until the FDA moves in and begins restricting access to these products to minors, it falls to the states to protect the health of our citizens. This year, I filed Senate Bill 841, which modifies provision relating to alternative nicotine or vapor products, commonly known as e-cigarettes and vaporizers. The sole purpose of this bill is to make sure underage children are not able to buy these nicotine products in Missouri.
The legislation establishes a state law prohibiting those younger than 18 years old from buying e-cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers. The legislation does not establish taxes on these devices, which is an entirely different discussion that will more than likely take place at a later date. Right now, my main concern is the safety of Missouri teenagers. My bill simply keeps these products out of the hands of young adults.
The FDA will eventually take action and begin regulating e-cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers. At that point, federal law will likely supersede what we pass. But until the federal government starts taking action on what is an industry in bad need of oversight and public protections, we need legislation to keep these devices out of the hands of kids. Thatís what this legislation does.