In the next few weeks, New Mexico legislators will consider several changes to the e-cigarette and vaping industry, including establishing a licensure process for retailers and raising the age limit for purchase. 

These bills come in response to the number of young people who have taken up vaping and the recent epidemic of lung injuries associated with Vitamin E Acetate, an additive in some vaping liquids. 

The CDC reported 2,602 cases of e-cigarette related lung injuries and 57 deaths related to e-cigarette use as of early January.

The American Medical Association (AMA) called for a total ban on all vaping products not approved by the FDA. Barbara McAneny, the immediate past president of the AMA said in an email with the Daily Lobo that “the AMA has worked hard for many years to decrease tobacco use, and does not want to see another generation become addicted to nicotine.” 

Vanessa Alarid, the Vaping Technology Association concedes that vaping products are not healthy but asserts that vaping is safer than smoking.  

"Some of us are using this as a way to break away from smoking habit," Alarid said. 

Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association agrees. “...[T]he purpose of vaping products [is] to provide inveterate, adult smokers, that have tried to quit many times but have failed, nicotine in a much safer way without smoke.” Conley said in an interview on CSPAN in September.  

On Jan. 15, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that vaping regulations would be considered during the 2020 legislative session, specifically calling for the creation of a “regulatory licensing system for the manufacturing, distribution and retail of tobacco products, to be administered by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division at the Regulation and Licensing Department, and raising the legal age for purchases of e-cigarette and other tobacco products from 18 to 21.” 

The governor listed Rep. Liz Thomson and Sen. Linda Lopez  as sponsors in her message, however licensing was not included in the pre-filed bills by either of these sponsors at the time of publication. 

Alarid confirmed that a new bill will be drafted that will include licensure and age limits, however, it won’t include language separating vaping from tobacco regulations. 

"We (the Vaping Industry) do want to bifurcate however because technology is changing and not all nicotine is from tobacco-it's also from tomatoes and eggplants... And with advances in technology, it will most prominently be synthetically manufactured, as it right now," Alarid said.

At the time of print, the American Cancer Society was not endorsing any of the pre-filed licensure bills. 

“These bills only focus on e-cigarettes and e-liquids. We want all tobacco-related products to be regulated in the same manner and would like the definitions to be the same instead of separated,” said Marisa Trujillo from the American Cancer Society: Cancer Action Network

Here is a quick overview of the vaping regulation bills that have been pre-filed. 

Four of the bills include provisions related to vaping liquid flavorings.  HB 23/SB 9 would specifically allow a licensed manufacturer, distributor, or retailer to manufacture or sell flavoring as an ingredient in e-liquid. HB 54 and SB 91, on the other hand, would specifically prohibit flavors of any kind outside of tobacco. The governor did not mention banning or permitting flavors in her message. 

Multiple national public health organizations have come out in opposition to vaping flavors

McAnaney told the Daily Lobo over email that flavors increase the attractiveness of e-cigarettes for young people, further increasing their risk of developing nicotine dependence.

The American Vaping Association, and the approximately 14,000 vape retailers across the country that it represents, say that they can support regulating tobacco, mint and menthol flavors, which they say represent about 10% of their total sales.

Conley said specialty flavors were created in response to consumer demand and that they are the best products to support tobacco users who want to quit using combustible cigarettes. 

“Fruit and sweet flavors are not just the most popular among adults but are by far the most popular among those who have fully switched (from combustible cigarettes),” Conley said. 

After flavors, age of purchaser is a regulation of significant import. Three of the pre-filed bills (HB 66 and HB 23/SB 9) would raise the legal age for purchases to 21. The governor explained in her message that she aims to “align New Mexico law with recently enacted federal law in addition to creating criminal penalties for those who sell these products to purchasers under the age of 21.”

Only two of the pre-filed bills currently establish a licensure process for vaping manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. These bills are identical or “mirror” bills (HB 23/SB 9) that have been introduced in each chamber. They both establish a licensure process but expressly prohibit banning flavors and make a distinction between vaping and tobacco to, in effect remove vaping from all tobacco legislation. 

Trujillo said, “The American Cancer Society sees licensing as a very, very important thing, as far as curbing the e-cigarette epidemic and approaching the tobacco issues that the state of New Mexico is facing.” She went on to explain that “any T21 (also known as Tobacco 21) legislation of course would need to accompany licensing regulations.”

Alarid pointed out that the vaping industry introduced similar versions of these bills during the last legislative session as well. 

“We as an industry brought forward a regulatory bill last December - we brought it to the state - and no one wanted to hear it," said Alarid. 

Neither of the E-Cigarette and E-Liquid bills’ sponsors (Sen. Gabriel Ramos and Rep. Patricio Ruiloba) were available for comment about their bills. 

It is unclear if the governor’s special message regarding licensure and increasing the age limit for purchases can be interpreted as including related legislation about flavors or if vaping will continue to be considered tobacco-related products. 

Rep. Thomson says she’s glad the bills made it on this year’s message from the governor. “Each year that we wait is another year of kids that get addicted to nicotine… and we as a society pay in terms of their health care costs and in terms of their decreased productivity” said Representative Thomson.  

Amanda Britt contributed research to this story.

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or @lissaknudsen 

Amanda Britt contributed reporting to this story.

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or @lissaknudsen