Can a product that contains no tobacco be governed by laws applicable to tobacco products?
That is a conundrum affecting Missouri’s oversight of the growing e-cigarette industry.
Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday vetoed legislation to exempt e-cigarettes from laws, regulations and taxes applied to the tobacco industry. Although e-cigarettes largely are manufactured by major tobacco companies — including R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris — the devices contain no tobacco.
The absence of tobacco, however, does not negate public health concerns.
"This bill," Nixon said, "appears to be nothing more than a thinly disguised and cynical attempt to exempt e-cigarettes from taxes and regulations protecting public health. The FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is already moving forward to ban the sale of these products to minors. Until more is known about the health effects of these products, letting tobacco companies off the hook with special loopholes would pose a real threat to Missourians’ health now and in the future."
Although we have reservations about applying tobacco regulations to a non-tobacco product, we support Nixon's veto, primarily on the strength of the caveat, "until more is known."
In support of the governor's veto, the American Heart Association reported in a news release: “E-cigarettes have become increasingly more popular since they were first introduced in 2008. Creative marketing and kid-friendly flavors have led to increased usage of e-cigs among all ages, especially young people.”
The association added: “Health organizations, including the American Heart Association, have worried that the products target young people and may get them hooked on tobacco. E-cigarettes may be a gateway to the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.”
Those disturbing trends and possibilities are among the reasons why the FDA has proposed regulations to place e-cigarettes under the same marketing and sales restrictions as traditional tobacco products.
Although e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they contain addictive nicotine — also found in tobacco products — and may pose perils to public health, particularly among young people.
Until more is known, sustain the veto and err on the side of caution.
Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.