Bill to separate vaping products from tobacco regs advances in House

By: - February 12, 2023 10:11 am

E-cigarettes (Wikimedia Commons)

A bill that aims to exclude vapes or e-cigarettes from tobacco regulations passed Friday in the Montana House.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine — 99%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes.

But bill sponsor Rep. Ron Marshall, R-Hamilton, said marijuana and alcohol aren’t regulated the same way, and he doesn’t think cigarettes and vapes should be either.

“Each one is in its own lane,” said Marshall, who is married to the owner of Freedom Vapes in Hamilton.

On second reading, 57 representatives voted yes, and 42 voted no on House Bill 293. It needs to pass third reading next.

Some legislators who voted against the bill said they worry it’s going to put more dangerous products in the hands of children.

Rep. Jennifer Lynch, D-Butte, said she’s an elementary school teacher, and she already sees children 6 to 12 years old with vapes.

“They are passing them around the playground,” Lynch said.

Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, asked her to stay on the topic of the bill — it did not address access, he said.

Lynch, though, said she worries the bill makes it easier for young people to obtain e-cigarettes — and if they do, it’s more likely they will take up cigarette smoking.

Some vape products do not disclose they contain nicotine, according to the CDC.

Last fall, the Montana Attorney General’s Office announced the state would receive $6.1 million from JUUL Labs in part because the e-cigarette manufacturer did not clearly disclose nicotine or nicotine concentrations and was irresponsible in marketing to youth.

In Montana, frequent and daily use of e-cigarettes among high schoolers increased by more than 120% from 2015 to 2021, according to the  Department of Public Health and Human Services.

DPHHS also said Montana has the second highest prevalence in the U.S. of students who have ever used e-cigarettes.

On the floor, Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, who opposed the bill, asked Marshall a series of questions about vape products:

Did Marshall know the percent that had nicotine? Not on a national level, Marshall said. Isn’t he in the business of vape products? Yes, but not daily. Of the products he deals with, what percent have nicotine? Probably 90 percent, Marshall said.

But co-sponsor and Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, asked Marshall if it was true the vaping products presented in an earlier committee did not contain nicotine. Marshall said Gunderson was correct.

The legislators also discussed federal law.

Rep. Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula, said federal law categorizes vapes as a tobacco product, and it’s problematic to treat them differently in Montana.

Federal law also prohibits the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under 21.

But if the bill passes, Sullivan said retailers might get the impression they can sell vapes to high schoolers – 18-year-olds.

“I am concerned about creating a separate regulatory scheme for vaping because it does contain the same addictive substance, nicotine, that is what’s getting our kids hooked on these products,” Sullivan said.

(Instead of HB 293, she said Montana law should be updated to comply with federal law to sell tobacco products to people only 21 and older.)

In support of the bill, though, Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, rejected the argument the bill would somehow put more vapes in the hands of young people, and he said no one adequately explained it either.

“Nobody who made that argument even attempted to connect the dots there because if they did, it would spell the word ‘nonsense,’” Hopkins said.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.