In efforts to lead the way on regulating electronic cigarettes the County Council has proposed restricting their use to the same places as traditional cigarettes, but some doubt the need of such legislation.
The bill, which was introduced by councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large) on Nov. 25, has been months in the works and is set to go to a public hearing on Jan. 22. The bill would restrict use of e-cigarettes for minors, restrict smoking in the same areas as for conventional cigarettes, govern product placement in stores and require child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine.
Maryland prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, but does not provide an enforcement mechanism. If the legislation goes through, it will also likely precede the FDA’s final rules, as the agency has collected comments on a proposed rule but has not said when the regulations will become official.
“Something to remember about electronic cigarettes is that basically they are a nicotine delivery device. There’s no question about that,” Floreen said when she introduced the legislation. “The real issue of course is the marketing of these devices to young people with different flavors, different ways to entrance a whole generation of smokers into the stream of addiction and concern.”
E-cigarettes contain nicotine, flavoring and varying other ingredients without the tobacco or tar inhalation of conventional cigarettes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). They contain a cartridge to hold the liquid nicotine and flavoring, a heating device to vaporize the liquid and a power source (typically a battery).
Cancer and lung disease from conventional cigarettes are linked to breathing in tar and other chemicals from burning tobacco, and so “e-cigarettes appear as if they may be a safer, less toxic alternative to conventional cigarettes,” according to the NIDA website.
But NIDA officials also said there is not enough information to know the health effects of repeated use. Researchers do not know the effects of secondhand vapor exposure that comes from electronic cigarettes. The nicotine content in electronic cigarettes varies from brand to brand.
For Councilmember Craig Rice (D-2), the uncertainty is enough to take precautions against the e-cigarettes. At the Sept. 18 meeting of the health and human services committee, Rice said he was not willing to take a chance on, for instance, a family with a young child sitting next to someone vaping, or inhaling an e-cigarette, in a restaurant.
“The challenge is that we’re tasked with something that’s a little bit greater than just ensuring the rights of individuals to be able to do whatever they want to do as adults. We also have the responsibility to protect the public as well,” Rice said. “If we don’t know, I’m not willing to take that chance and gamble with that young child just like I wasn’t willing to gamble with my young children.”
He said if more information comes to light and the FDA and other organizations say it’s safe, the county could repeal the restrictions.
In response, prominent lobbyist for the tobacco industry Bruce Bereano, who attended the meeting, said he felt that was “grossly unfair and grossly irresponsible.”
For Thomas Kiklas, who co-founded the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (TVECA), the lawmakers’ hesitation is understandable but there are enough studies to know e-cigarettes are safe. On its website, TVECA lists a number of studies on the contents of e-cigarettes and vapor, some of which state the relative safety of e-cigarettes in general or when compared to conventional cigarettes.
Kiklas said typical e-cigarettes have only five main ingredients: propylene glycol, glycerol, nicotine, water and flavoring.
But just as brands vary, so do the study results. One recent study from Japan’s Health Ministry found a sample that had 10 times the amount of cancer-causing ingredients than traditional cigarettes.
While Kiklas acknowledges nicotine is addictive, he said there are many products available to consumers that are addictive. He is proud of the product’s popularity and potential to help, with more than 3.5 million users now.
Kiklas said he understands the vapor in public places can seem unpleasant to people, but believes eventually society will accept e-cigarettes.
“Simple water vapor is all they’re expelling. I’ve seen some vapors that have very large devices that put out a lot of vapors and in a lot of social situations and that’s not proper,” he said. “In time we feel people will better understand the technology and not be fearful of it.”
Council members voiced concern for the marketing of e-cigarettes, especially if it encourages nonsmokers to try them or if young people perceive them as healthy.
“I’ve started to pay attention to the ads and they’re basically saying, from my perspective, ‘look, you can skirt the law by using our e-cigarettes,’” Rice said at the committee meeting. “I understand the jury’s still out and there are still questions, but there’s no question that nicotine is an addictive drug.”
Kevin Scrimgeour, owner of Wheaton Vapor in Westfield Wheaton Mall, said his target customer is just someone who needs to transition from conventional cigarettes to lower nicotine levels. When starting his business, which opened in November, he reached out to TVECA and researched electronic cigarettes to make sure his business would not be “dirty” or “harmful.”
Now, Scrimgeour said many of his customers seem to be older people who want to get away from tobacco cigarettes.
“(They are) men and women who have smoked a pack or two packs a day and they’ve gotten the scare… Something’s happened and they show up at my booth,” Scrimgeour said.
The other group of customers are around 18-32 and are interested in the mechanics of the e-cigarette, but even those customers often used to or still smoke, according to Scrimgeour.
In the industry, it’s bad practice to appeal to minors, Scrimgeour said. Even the flavors for the nicotine often appeal to those who already smoke hookah, not kids who want to try fun flavors.
“We don’t welcome people under 18. We don’t want them in the store. We thank them very much but we card people,” he said.
Part of the problem could be how to tell the difference in a public place, said Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) in the committee session. Some of the e-cigarette brands are made with the same shape and coloring as conventional cigarettes.
Although Bereano said only a few brands look that way and a restaurant owner could tell the difference between vapor and smoke, Leventhal felt it was an unfair burden.
“I just don’t see how it is fair to a restaurateur to distinguish especially from a distance the nature of the device someone is using while the restaurateur is liable for allowing smoking in his or her place of business,” he said at the committee meeting. “That’s asking a lot of the owner of a restaurant or bar from a distance to say ‘well smoke is not emanating from the tip and the vapor that is emanating from the consumer’s mouth is steam and not smoke and therefore it’s okay.’”
The proposed legislation is available in full at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/leg/bill/index.html.