New Mexico is one step closer to establishing a licensure process for e-cigarette and other tobacco product retailers and raising the age of purchase of all tobacco products to twenty-one.
Senate Bill 131, the Tobacco Products Act, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Friday Jan 31, with a unanimous do pass.
Though the bill moved easily through the Senate Public Affairs Committee, there are two possible amendments that don’t bode well for the bill: local preemption and banning flavors.
Local preemption gives governments “the right to be even stricter with their tobacco laws than (the state) is,” said Rep. Liz Thomson in an interview with the Daily Lobo.
“(The vaping ) industry wants that out and the City of Albuquerque and some of the advocates… the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society want to keep that in,” Thomson said.
She went on to explain the bill could mean that if the state did not ban e-cigarette retailers from selling flavors, the City of Albuquerque, for example, would be allowed to do so.
The other issue of contention is banning flavors.
According to Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, about 90% of vape shops sales are made up of fruit and sweet flavors.
“Flavors were actually invented in these products because consumers back in 2009/2010, long before the tobacco industry even thought e-cigarettes were viable, they demanded flavors… they started creating their own and so the industry responded,” said Conley in an interview on CSPAN.
Thomson, on the other hand, said flavors are the gateway to youth addiction and that she begged the governor’s staff to include a ban in this year’s message but they declined.
According to Thomson, the governor’s office told her, “until we have the licensure in place it would be really hard to police (a flavor ban), so they want to get the licensing in place first and then my plan, anyway, is to go after flavors next year.”
The recent e-cigarette epidemic among youth prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to release an advisory calling for action.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website,“e-cigarette use increased 78% among high school students..., from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018. In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students (use) e-cigarettes.”
The New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey showed that in New Mexico, the rates are even higher, with more than 50% of high school students reporting that they have used e-cigarettes.
In addition to the epidemic among youth, last month the CDC reported that across the United States 2,602 people have been hospitalized for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) with 57 people having died.
Though the CDC has confirmed most of those cases are due to THC vaping, researchers argue that the ingredients found in all vape liquid, including those used with nicotine, impair lung function.
“When you put non-natural products into the lungs, the immune cells try to get rid of them and can’t," said Matthew Campen, a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of New Mexico.
Despite the sense of urgency from the public health community, there is no guarantee the bill will become law.
SB 131 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee before heading to the Senate floor for a vote of the entire senate. After that, it is expected to be assigned to two committees in the New Mexico House.
Both the vaping industry and public health advocates have endorsed SB 131, however the amendments may take time to work through and any amendments made on the House side will have to go through a process called “concurrence” back in the Senate before a final bill can be sent to the governor for her signature.
“If it gets through, it will be signed, no doubt,” Thomson said.
The session ends on Thursday Feb. 20 at noon.
Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lissaknudsen.