Last month, Maine’s Legislative Council allowed LR 2765, “An Act To Enact Restrictions on Electronic Smoking Devices,” to proceed to a legislative committee for consideration in the second session. According to the bill summary (no actual bill language has been released), this legislative request would require individuals to obtain a prescription from a doctor as part of a smoking cessation program in order to obtain an electronic smoking device, and only after the smoking devices receives approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In other words, this legislative request would limit vape and e-cigarette use to individuals who are seeking an alternative to smoking tobacco.
LR 2765, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett, was likely introduced with good intentions in an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of electronic smoking devices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), electronic smoking devices are responsible for one to nine lung injury cases in Maine and 2,290 nationally, as of November 19, 2019. While these figures are concerning, they pale in comparison to injuries caused by cigarettes.
Cigarettes are responsible for 480,000 deaths, or about 20 percent of all deaths annually, in the United States. According to Public Health England (PHE), using vape products is 95 percent safer than smoking cigarettes. The United Kingdom is actively trying to get smokers to quit through the use of vape products.
In addition, the CDC announced that vitamin E acetate is the chemical of concern regarding electronic smoking devices and lung injury; it was found in all bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples collected from affected patients. This substance is sticky, clings to lung tissue and is typically found as a “thickening agent” in vaping products that contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
While this is a preliminary finding, it is important to note that this chemical is not contained in all vape products, and lawmakers should be cautious about making this assumption.
The CDC is warning individuals to stay away from vape products that contain THC, especially from informal sources, and do not recommend adding it to products on their own accord. If vitamin E acetate is thought to be the chemical causing most or all vape-related injuries, it would be irresponsible for policymakers to pass LR 2765, which would affect all individuals who want to use electronic smoking devices.
A more targeted approach to reducing the number of lung injuries related to electronic smoking devices may be to limit the ways in which vitamin E acetate can be used in these products. The chemical may be safe to use in skin lotions, but it’s dangerous for individuals to inhale into their lungs.
In addition to lung injuries, lawmakers and advocacy groups across the country are concerned about adolescent use of vaping products. President Donald Trump indicated support for a ban on sweet flavored vape products in September but has since reversed course and now signals potential support of increasing the minimum age to buy vape products to 21. Trump said he was concerned that a ban on flavored products might cause children to turn to the black market and use unsafe products.
In Maine, lawmakers have already made it illegal to sell vape products to individuals under 21 years of age. Retailers are subject to hundreds of dollars in fines if they sell tobacco or electronic smoking products to minors. The first offense is set at a minimum fine of $300. LR 2765 would make it more difficult for adults to acquire electronic smoking devices despite having the ability to go to their local gas station to purchase other tobacco products, including cigarettes, which are far more dangerous.
It would be more productive to strengthen penalties for those who sell vape products to minors than putting prohibitions on all consumers, and adult smokers should continue to have the ability to buy vaping products over-the-counter as cessation tools. A 2019 study found that e-cigarettes are far more effective than other nicotine replacement tools.
While government is charged with keeping the public safe, its role is not to selectively ban or limit the use of products, especially if those products are currently safer than their legal alternatives. Mainers should not be required to see a doctor to get a prescription for an electronic cigarette, especially if they are going to use it as a smoking cessation tool. Put simply, LR 2765 would construct unnecessary barriers to those who want to quit smoking tobacco products, to the point where they may not stop in the first place.
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