On Wednesday, Utah lawmakers on the Health and Human Services interim committee discussed the fate of e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered tubes that heat liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor (rather than tobacco smoke) and are meant to simulate the taste and effects of tobacco. Distributors claim that the devices contain almost none of the cancer-causing chemicals of normal cigarettes.
In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified e-cigarettes as “drug-device combination products,” and banned them from being imported from countries like China. In 2010, a federal judge in Washington ruled that while the FDA can regulate and monitor the contents and marketing claims of e-cigarette sellers and manufacturers, the cannot outright ban them. The judge then suggested that e-cigarettes should be classified (and regulated) as tobacco products—like normal cigarettes, cigars, etc.—rather than as drug or medical devices.
The FDA is now considering the judge’s advice on the reclassification, but critics say the new products unfairly face stricter guidelines while other products are being grandfathered in.
Utah lawmakers on the committee are on board with the reclassification, and seemed to consider it a foregone conclusion. Seeking to add their voice of support, the committee spent much of its time deciding how to word a letter of support to the FDA. But the lawmakers found themselves a little stuck in the details, as they sought to accurately describe the devices.
The committee heard testimony about the benefits e-cigarettes provide to smokers who are trying to quit. However, there were some tense exchanges and even some confusion regarding exactly what constitutes an e-cigarette.
Following the committee’s discussion, several members of the public and interested parties testified—all of whom were opposed to the idea of using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device.
Jennifer Daylen of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians said in her testimony that she wants to ensure that once classified as tobacco products, e-cigarettes must have advertising restrictions place on them just like normal tobacco items in order to prevent public confusion.
The committee also heard testimony from three local business owners who sell e cigarettes. All three agreed that e-cigarettes should be kept out of the hands of minors, and supported the current regulations. Their only concern, they said, was that future regulation may force some business to close due to added expenses.
Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield) expressed concern that despite regulations, children may still getting their hands on e-cigarettes. He told the business owners of an anecdote he’d heard of a of a high school student in Ogden who was renting e-cigarettes out to his fellow students.
In response, Jen Littlefield, one of the three small business owners who sell the products, said that in the last year alone, her store has had 10 separate instances of undercover officers attempting sting operations to see if her store would sell e-cigarettes to a minor. Each time, Littlefield said, the undercover officers were turned away, and that shows the effectiveness of the current laws.
“Then how do these kids still get a hold of them?” Representative Ray demanded, as the conversation heated up. Littlefield said it can happen the same way it happens with regular cigarettes or alcohol, and that parents should take some responsibility to monitor what their children are doing.
The reply caused Ray to bristle, as he shot back “We need to stop blaming parents.” It’s worth pointing out that this comment is surprising from Representative Ray, who regularly tells his fellow lawmakers that ‘parents know best.’ The heated back and forth was gaveled back to order before it could go further. The chairman concluded by saying, “We have an obligation to protect citizens especially children but that you cannot legislate against stupid.”