COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon made his case against tax exemption for e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products Wednesday during a roundtable discussion with local health professionals at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia.
In July, Nixon vetoed Senate Bill 841, which would have kept such products from being taxed and regulated as tobacco products are, while at the same time banning their sale to minors.
Panel members at Wednesday's roundtable:
- Gov. Jay Nixon
- Jeff Harris, senior policy adviser to Gov. Jay Nixon
- Lucas Buffaloe, MU assistant professor of clinical family and community medicine
- Kevin Everett, MU associate professor of medicine
- Ashleigh Johnson, chairwoman of the American Lung Association Leadership Council
- Stacy Reliford, American Cancer Society state government relations director
- Jace Smith, American Heart Association government relations director
The bill passed in the House 127 to 19 and in the Senate 27 to 4. Nixon's veto seems likely to be overridden when the General Assembly meets for its annual veto session next week.
Again and again, Gov. Nixon and other members of the roundtable emphasized that not enough is known about the health effects of e-cigarettes to be able to declare them safer than traditional tobacco products.
"The fact is with the long-term effects of e-cigarettes unknown, creating new loopholes for e-cigarettes would jeopardize public health, and quite frankly that's unacceptable," Nixon said.
Stacy Reliford, the state government relations director at the American Cancer Society and one of the members of the roundtable, warned that SB 841 sends the wrong message to the public about e-cigarettes.
She said that the bill "creates the illusion that the products are safer, without the scientific evidence to back it up."
The scientific evidence that does exist concerns Jace Smith, the government relations director at the American Heart Association.
"We know that nicotine does restrict blood flow and does increase your chance of heart disease and stroke, so we'd like to see these regulated," Smith said about the products covered by SB 841.
Another cause of concern for the members of the roundtable was the rapid increase in the marketing of e-cigarettes. Smith said that advertising for e-cigarettes and related products has grown by about 250 percent in the past two years.
Dr. Lucas Buffaloe, an assistant professor of clinical family and community medicine at MU, worried that such marketing has made e-cigarettes more attractive to young people.
"We're seeing more and more teenagers who are using these products," he said. "And electronic cigarettes are actually serving as a gateway to nicotine addiction."
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes. They contain a liquid solution that produces a nicotine-infused vapor when heated.
Original versions of e-cigarettes were designed to resemble traditional cigarettes, but newer versions can look like a jump drive for a computer, pen or pencil. E-cigarettes can also have flavors such as bubble gum or Cap'n Crunch, said Ashleigh Johnson, chairwoman of the American Lung Association Leadership Council.
Nick Kohlberg, an MU student and co-chairman of the Missouri Public Health Advocacy Coalition who attended the roundtable, hopes that legislators will reconsider their support for SB 841 before next week's vote on an override. He's not that optimistic, though.
“The only thing I think that will possibly keep it from being overridden is if legislators have looked at the facts and read the bill more carefully," he said. "In my mind it’s not that promising that we will see the veto staying in effect."
Jeff Harris, senior policy adviser to Nixon, thinks that legislators meant well when they passed SB 841 but didn't fully appreciate at the time that it was "a wolf in sheep's clothing." He thinks members of the General Assembly face a clear decision during the veto session.
"A vote to override the governor's veto is a vote with manufacturers and sellers of e-cigarettes," he said. "A vote to sustain the governor's veto is a vote to protect and support the health of Missourians and Missouri families."
Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.