By Dana Carlson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Electronic cigarettes could be banned from the hands of minors as Virginia legislators in the House and Senate push for regulation.
In response to the growing number of young people experimenting with smokeless tobacco products, Virginia lawmakers have introduced House Bill 1111, House Bill 26, House Bill 218, Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 17 to prohibit people under the age of 18 from purchasing or possessing e-cigarettes.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press release stated the percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes more than doubled to 4.7 percent between 2011 to 2012.
Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey stated more than 1.78 million middle school and high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2012.
“We have to start thinking about what we need to do as a society, what e-cigarette manufacturers need to do, what state municipalities and the federal government need to do,” stated Dr. Tim McAfee of the CDC in an Associated Press interview.
While the language of each proposed provision is slightly different, each bill summary defines electronic cigarettes as a vehicle of nicotine delivery.
HB1111, HB218 and SB96 specifically call for electronic cigarettes to be grouped beneath the umbrella of “tobacco products,” which may lead to regulation similar to that of traditional cigarettes.
HB26 has been incorporated into the Reeves bill, HB218, by a voice vote in the House along with SB17. Meanwhile, HB1111 has been assigned to the House Courts of Justice Criminal Law sub-committee for review.,
While lobbyists for the Medical Society of Virginia were poised to publicly endorse the ban of e-cigs to minors, a press release stated the group was pleased to see when bill patron Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, presented SB 96.
The bill — which would prohibit minors from purchasing or possessing e-cigarettes or vapor products — faced no opposition and was unanimously supported by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
Additionally, HB218, introduced by Delegate Dave Albo, was endorsed by the House Courts of Justice Civil subcommittee and will next be considered by the full committee, stated MSV.
Delegate David Ramadan, R-South Riding, patron of HB26, stated in a WRIC interview that his bill was inspired by concerned parents who saw more young people experimenting with e-cigs.
“Under 18 children were able to buy these cigarette looking products in malls and they have seen a trend in children starting to use it,” Ramadan stated.
The exploding e-cigarette industry is predicted to have earned more than $1 billion in annual sales for 2013, according to statistics verified by the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
Some local e-cig retailers already have prepared for the repercussions of growth by carefully marketing their products.
“As a company we welcome legislation,” said Donovan Phillips, co-owner of the electronic cigarette specialty store and lounge, Avail Vapor in Richmond. “As far as the 18 and under situation, this industry needs this kind of legislation as it moves from the state of a novelty to a mainstream product.”
Avail Vapor, which has several store locations throughout Virginia, practices self- regulation to remain ahead of the curb.
The brick-and-mortar business currently labels its products detailing all chemicals contained in e-cigarette cartridges, includes a warning label noting the risks of nicotine consumption. The label pointedly claims smokeless tobacco is addicting and is not an aid for smoking cessation.
In addition to these precautions, Avail Vapor does not sell electronic cigarettes to minors.
Ian Rawls, an e-cig user, stated on Facebook that the “vaping” trend has blown up in the Hampton Roads area during the last few months.
“Most of the places I go to when I pick up materials typically ID me,” Rawls stated, adding that most of these shops have a sign reading: “Under 18 not allowed.”
“We know that nicotine is not good for the developing adult’s brain, and we are concerned that experimentation with e-cigarettes may put our children also at risk for using cigarettes,” McAfee stated.
Phillips said e-cigarettes offer a lifestyle alternative to a wide demographic of people whether it’s a mother who is worried about second-hand smoke when driving her kids to school or someone in the military who doesn’t want to smell like smoke.
Chip Anderson, co-owner of RVA Vapes stated on Facebook that Big Tobacco has failed at buying itself into the e-cigarette market. As a result, Philip Morris USA (Altria), Reynolds American (RJR), and Lorillard, want to see e-cigs taxed the same way as cigarettes.
Placing restrictions on the sale to minors could be the first step in stricter regulation and enforcement similar to that of traditional cigarettes.
“Big Tobacco has seen a 25-percent drop in sales in the last two years,” Anderson stated. “And with “loyal customers” dying by the thousands daily, they don’t wanna lose anymore.”