JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Monday to legislation barring people younger than 18 from buying electronic cigarettes, while exempting the nicotine products from other tobacco sales restrictions.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices used to heat a flavored liquid nicotine solution and create vapor that is inhaled by the user. Current law allows those products to be purchased by anyone, regardless of age.
Supporters argue the legislation would protect teenagers from early exposure to nicotine, while holding off on future regulations until more research is conducted. The federal government is spending millions on research to supplement independent studies on the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as who uses them and why.
"It's a first step, but I would say it's a good step given what we know today," said Rep. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican who is the House sponsor of the legislation.
The House voted 127-19 to send the bill to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk. It passed the Senate earlier this year.
Opponents said the measure wouldn't go far enough to restrict access because it exempts e-cigarettes from some restrictions on tobacco sales and advertising, including the state's 17 cent-per-pack cigarette tax. The bill states that e-cigarette sales should be subject to local and state sales taxes but "shall not otherwise be taxed or regulated as tobacco products."
"It pre-empts our opportunity to ensure that our young people don't become tomorrow's addicts," said Rep. Jill Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat.
The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 30 other states have passed measures similar to Missouri's that prevent e-cigarette sales to kids but don't subject the devices to the same regulations as tobacco products.
Missouri's measure would define e-cigarettes as "alternative nicotine" or "vapor products" and place some restrictions on them, including requiring they only be sold at licensed dealers and giving fines to teens who try to buy them illegally.
Monday's vote comes a few weeks after the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to regulate the $2 billion e-cigarette market by banning sales to minors, adding warning labels and requiring agency approval for any new products. The FDA is currently taking public comments on its proposed rules.