New York was expected to become the first state to ban the growing trade in electronic cigarettes this year, but now even passage of legislation that would prohibit minors from buying e-cigarettes appears unlikely.
With two dueling bills and less than a week left in the legislative session, lawmakers aren’t optimistic about passing any new state laws dealing with e-cigarettes.
New York is among several states waiting for action by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is continuing a lengthy review of e-cigarettes, and has said e-cigarettes could still be regulated as drugs or drug-delivery devices if they are “marketed for therapeutic purposes,” — for example, as a stop-smoking aid. The FDA will also consider regulating them as tobacco products.
For now, re-usable e-cigarettes available in malls and convenience stores around New York are unregulated, even for youths. That means they can be smoked anywhere, any time, and the water vapor they expend doesn’t violate any anti-smoking laws.
“It will take, literally, years to regulate this federally,” said Russ Sciandra of the American Cancer Society. “The effect is nothing is going to happen and kids will continue to have access and we’re worried they will use these things and become addicted to nicotine, then find a cheaper alternative, which is cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes are plastic and metal devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable cartridge, creating vapor that the “smoker” inhales. A tiny light on the tip even glows like a real cigarette. They were developed in China and have been in the United States since 2006. No definitive studies show they are dangerous or, as advertised, a safe alternative to smoking.
Alaska, Idaho, Kansas and Maryland have already banned e-cigarettes from being sold to minors (in Alaska, that’s anyone under 19 years old). At least 13 states have introduced laws over the last two years to regulate e-cigarettes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. South Carolina and Tennessee have proposed bans, but no state has enacted one.
“A lot of states are waiting to see what the feds do,” said Karmen Hanson of NCSL.
In Albany, there have been many twists in lawmakers’ efforts to ban or regulate e-cigarettes.
In 2010, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, sought to ban them pending further study. Her bill passed the Democrat-led Assembly, but stalled in the Senate then controlled by Democrats. A year later, when Republicans regained control of the Senate, Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon, a Long Island Republican, said the bill would be considered.
Now, Rosenthal has a bill that would prohibit sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 years old. Republican Sen. Owen Johnson is a strong sponsor in the Senate. The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly May 30, but the Senate version is stuck in Hannon’s Health Committee.
“I’m baffled,” she said. “I’m sure it would pass unanimously in the Senate … the problem is, the session ends in a few days and it’s kind of impossible at this point to revisit it in the Assembly.”
On Friday, with two weeks left in the legislative session, Hannon introduced his own bill that called for a total ban.
Even Hannon doesn’t think his bill, nor the Rosenthal-Johnson bill, will become law before the June 21 end of the Legislature’s regular session.
Why submit the late bill?
“To get some discussion going, to get some reaction by people for and against it and get information that would provide a rational basis for action or inaction,” Hannon said.
“We’re gathering information,” Hannon said, noting the FDA has extensive staffing for the task.
With 600 Health Committee bills to pass in the last five days of session, e-cigarettes isn’t likely to be one of them.
“Of all the things we have to do this does not rank very high,” Hannon said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.