Bill would add e-cigarettes to state’s tobacco…

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A bill sponsored by a Williston lawmaker would treat electronic cigarettes the same way tobacco is treated.

Sen. Brad Bekkedahl introduced Senate Bill 2189, which would add electronic smoking devices to the state’s tobacco laws, meaning retailers would need a license to sell them, the same as is required for cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco. It would also impose a tax on electronic cigarettes.

The bill passed the Senate 39-8 and is waiting for a hearing in the House of Representatives.

In mid January, 10 people testified about the bill, with six opposed to it and four in favor. Those who are opposing the measure say because electronic smoking devices seem to be safer than tobacco products, they should be treated differently.

Lindsey Stroud with the Taxpayer Protection Alliance said adding a tax would discourage people from using electronic cigarettes, which are safer.

“As traditional tobacco revenues continue to decline, lawmakers across the country are considering applying the same excise taxes – or sin taxes – on electronic cigarettes and vapor products,” Stroud wrote. “Numerous studies have shown that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes and have helped many smokers quit smoking and remain smoke-free. Lawmakers should refrain from enacting excise taxes on such products, as excise taxes are used to deter behavior.”

People use electronic cigarettes to cut down on other tobacco products. Stroud pointed to a study that examined more than 12,000 participants.

“Notably, the authors found that for ‘every 100 people using nicotine e-cigarettes to stop smoking, 10 might successfully stop, compared with only six of 100 people using nicotine replacement therapy or nicotine-free e-cigarettes,’” Stroud wrote.

Even if there is less risk with electronic cigarettes, it’s still important to keep nicotine out of the hands of young people, Neil Charvat, director of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program for the North Dakota Department of Health, testified.

“On September 12, 2018, the FDA declared that youth use of (electronic smoking products) has reached ‘nothing short of an epidemic,’” Charvat said. “According to the 2019 North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), North Dakota high school students’ use of ENDS/vaping devices has significantly increased from 1.6% in 2011 to 33.1% in 2019. In addition, any tobacco product use for ND high school students has increased from 28.8% in 2017 to 35.5% in 2019 (ND YRBS). Recent 2019 federal legislative efforts to increase the sales and use age for tobacco products to 21 and flavor regulation efforts may help with these high numbers. However, this legislation is limited to specific products such as pre-filled pod systems and to certain flavors, so actual results may be limited.”

But Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association, which also represents convenience stores in the state, said retailers are already doing everything asked of them.

“The problem doesn’t lie with convenience stores,” Rud said. “It lies in other areas, like internet sales and other dark markets. Why put regulations in place to further hamper retailers?”

Darius Endres, the owner of Sports Vape in Fargo, testified that the bill would hurt his business and public health generally.

“The only benefit I can see to this bill is that current smokers will continue to pay the tobacco tax as they slowly die as they continue their current addiction without the tools to stop it,” he said. “Vaping ends nicotine addictions, so as a state we have 2 choices. The first is to profit off of the sick and ill as they slowly kill themselves for a few pieces of silver. While the second is to forgo some tax revenue in order to save thousands of lives that would have been destroyed by smoking cigarettes.”

But Chavart said the FDA has specific guidelines for smoking cessation products.

“Regardless of industry claims, (electronic cigarettes)/vaping products have not been classified by the FDA as tobacco cessation medications, such as nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) like gum, lozenges, or patches,” he said. “FDA-approved NRTs have gone through extensive evaluation and testing processes to determine safety and efficacy; (electronic cigarettes)/vaping products have not. Whether due to the alarming (electronic cigarettes)/vaping product use statistics or awareness of issues like EVALI and COVID-19, we have been frequently asked – how many (electronic cigarettes)/vaping products are sold and who sells them. The answer to these questions is that we do not know.”

Bekkedahl said vaping should be regulated to protect public health.

“The bottom line is that vaping can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than traditional cigarette smoking and we should take steps to prevent youth access to these products,” he said. “Due to the unregulated nature of electronic smoking devices and the alarming increase in use by both minors and adults, it is important that we as legislators carefully review our current approach to regulating tobacco products to ensure we are doing so in a manner that is sensible, responsive to industry’s ever-changing products, and beneficial to the state and the health of its residents.”

No date has been set for a vote in the House.

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