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Missouri Legislative Brouhaha Echoes National One

Several US state legislatures have considered e-cig bills that center around two issues: a ban on sale to minors, and the classification of electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. In a sense, both are moot points, since the FDA is likely to do both eventually. But when? States are taking up the issue pre-emptively.

It is hard to find anybody, on either side of the general e-cig debate, who opposes the youth-sale ban. Some vaping opponents were briefly able to villify the vaping supplies industry as an advocate of youth sales, but the charge is pretty much dead in the water by now, as more industry spokespersons are vocal in their support of a youth sales ban. It is widely known that the psychoactive properties of nicotine have different neurological impact on teenagers. No one wants to be guilty, or even thought to be guilty, of pumping nicotine into teenage brains.

The issue that is intertwined with youth sales at the state level is the definition of vaping products as tobacco, and this comes down to a taxation issue. Vapers and harm reductionists want low taxes on the products, since lower price is a strong motivation for switching from smokes to vapes. They don't want e-cigs taxed as cigs. Groups that fear vaping, for whatever reason, want e-cigs to stay expensive, and they hope that taxing them like smokes will achieve that goal. Some say it's just a matter of the goverrnment's need for revenue.

Virtually all the major health advocacy groups, such as the the heart association, the lung association, the cancer society, the Campaign for Smoke-Free Kids, and more, oppose the non-tobacco definition. This is particularly interesting in the case of the American Heart Association, which now admits that vaping may be considered an acceptable last-resort cessation method. (Their report on the issue, which came out just before the similar new WHO report, has been reported as advocacy of a public use ban, an anti-vaping position. It was that, but the press has missed the seismic shift to provisional acceptance of vaping, which is potentially more significant.) Apparently the AHA now believes that vaping may be a cessation device, but it should be an expensive one.

On to Missouri. The state legislature passed, by a large margin, a bill containing both measures, the youth-sales ban and the non-tobacco definition. The predictable array of health groups urged Governor Nixon (no relation) to veto it. He did. But the legislature has overridden the veto. Vaping products may not be sold to minors in Missouri, and they will not be classed as tobacco products. National action by the FDA is likely to echo the first provision, and to override the second, unless the Agency reverses its apparent intent.

“This new law sends the message that Missouri is not for sale to heavily-funded special interest health groups," says A. J. Moll, a spokesperson for the Bistate Regional Advocates for Vaping Education, which operates in Missouri and Illinois.

Moll's group opposes further restrictions, since not enough is yet known about long-term effects of vaping. Governor Nixon agrees that not enough is known about such effects, and give that as his rationale for imposing restrictions. Clearly the different points of view reflect opposite ideas of the very nature of regulation.

According to the American Cancer Society, over half of the states have passed laws combining these two provisions. Now everyone is waiting for the FDA to drop the other shoe.