SANTA FE — The New Mexico Tobacco Regulation Act (Senate Bill 131) was signed into law on Wed. March 4.
The new law requires manufacturers, distributors and sellers of tobacco products — including e-cigarettes — to be licensed in New Mexico and to be subject to criminal penalties if they manufacture, distribute or sell tobacco products in the state without a license.
It also raised the legal age for purchases of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21, aligning New Mexico law with recently passed federal law.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2,807 have been hospitalized from vaping-related illnesses since February 2020. The CDC also reports that 68 deaths were confirmed to have been caused by vaping.
According to a press release from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, the regulatory authority will go to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Regulation and Licensing Department, with enforcement falling to the Department of Public Safety.
Lujan Grisham included the regulation of the vaping industry as a priority in her State of the State speech. She tapped Senator Linda Lopez (D) to sponsor the bill on the senate side of the chamber, with Senator Gabriel Ramos (D) and Representatives Elizabeth Thompson (D) and Joanne Ferrary (D) signing on as co-sponsors.
“Youth vaping has become an epidemic, with one in three New Mexico high school students using vaping products. Licensing and regulation will help us know who is selling tobacco products and give us the tools to enforce compliance and reduce the overall numbers of our youth using tobacco, e-cigarettes and e-liquid products,” Lopez said in a prepared statement.
Public health advocates saw this bill as a good first step, but expressed disappointment regarding the lack of restrictions on e-cigarette flavorings and the failed attempt to repeal the preemption clause.
Preemption is the passage of a law at the state level, which makes it illegal for lower levels of government to enact stronger laws.
According to Mahesh Sita, the American Health Association Government Relations Director of New Mexico, Colorado was recently able to repeal their preemption, or the “home rule” clause. This action made it possible for municipalities across the state to set more stringent regulations than state law.
According to the Tobacco-Free Kids website, as of Feb. 2020, over 260 localities have passed restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, although each of the laws differs in scope.
In November 2019, Massachusetts became the first state to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products. Their policy goes into effect on June 1, 2020, with the exception of flavored e-cigarettes, which were banned completely. Massachusetts had already temporarily banned the flavored e-cigarettes per an emergency order issued Sept. 24, 2019.
In 2019, eight states — Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington — issued emergency rules to temporarily ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “these rules have faced legal challenges and are currently in effect in only three states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington.”
In January 2020, New Jersey enacted legislation that banning the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes.
Representatives from the Vapor Technology Association interest group worked with legislators in 2019 to introduce a similar bill, but that bill died without being heard in its first committee.
The New Mexico Tobacco Regulation Act bill ultimately passed the Senate by a vote of 28 to 11 and the House 40 to 28.
Senator Ramos said establishing a regulation mechanism is an important step to prevent young people from vaping.
“It’s really important to me that we do everything we can to keep e-cigarettes and e-liquids away from young people, and regulation will be a good mechanism to do just that,” Ramos said. “Too many kids are getting sick from these products.”
Lissa Knudsen is a public health beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lissaknudsen