Hoping to curb teen vaping – a major problem in East Valley school districts – state lawmakers are moving to put new restrictions on where and how vaping devices can be sold.
Without dissent, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted Wednesday to classify both the devices and the liquids that they burn as tobacco products, subjecting them to the same restrictions in Arizona law as cigarettes.
The approval of SB 1009 came over the objections of Gibson McKay, lobbyist for the Vapor Technology Association, which represents manufacturers, wholesalers and business owners who market the devices.
McKay said his members have no problem with imposing new restrictions on youth purchases, but said they don’t want to be lumped in the same category as tobacco products.
One big issue is that Arizona law forbids the sale of cigarettes online. McKay does not want a similar restriction on vaping devices. And he fears that such a change could make the devices subject to the same taxes now imposed on tobacco products.
That, he said, undermines the whole purpose behind vaping devices.
“We’re not tobacco,’’ McKay told lawmakers. “We vaporize a product that is glycerin.’’
That product, he acknowledged, has nicotine in it. And that chemical, said McKay, may very well come from tobacco products.
But McKay said it’s the other chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause cancer and other lung diseases. He said vaping is a method to help adults quit smoking.
That explanation did not wash with Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who is pushing for the additional regulation.
She said if e-cigarettes were truly designed to help people quit, then the industry would have registered it as a medical device with the federal Food and Drug Administration. With that classification, Carter said, it would be exempt from Arizona law and could be sold online, just like nicotine gums and patches.
“You can’t have it both ways,’’ she told McKay, who could not provide a reason that his clients have not sought such approval other than the possible regulatory delay.
What that leaves, said Carter, is the explosion in youth vaping.
Andrew LeFevre, executive director of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, said the latest survey of teens shows more than 25 percent of high school seniors reported using a vaping device in the past 30 days.
That, however, did not impress Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, who pointed out that at least some seniors are 18 or older, people who can legally purchase and use these products. LeFevre admitted his survey did not break down the data by age group.
And Pace said he was not convinced that the real problem is online sales.
He detailed how he personally tried to order a device that way, saying it was “significantly difficult’’ what with the age verification demanded by sellers. By contrast, Pace said he had no problem ordering a bottle of wine on the internet in just a few minutes, something allowed under Arizona law.
Committee members also heard from Michael Felling who told his own story of starting to smoke at age 11 and quitting 36 years later, with the help of vaping devices, after it was clear that his second-hand smoke was affecting his wife’s health.
“I see these two products as being extremely different,’’ Felling said. And he told lawmakers that any move to reclassify vaping products as tobacco is likely to lead to higher taxes.
While the legislation did get unanimous committee approval, several lawmakers suggested that they want it amended when it goes to the full Senate to continue to allow internet sales to adults.