A federal crackdown to keep e-cigarettes away from children is having an impact on discussions in state capitols far from the nation’s capital.
Both Iowa and Nebraska are considering new laws to raise the minimum age for vaping to 21. That in addition to other measures — a potential ban on flavored vaping liquids and a proposal to ban minors from even possessing vaping devices — to try to restrict the use of the product by young people.
State lawmakers are acting after the FDA announced on Dec. 20 that it was raising the minimum age to 21 to buy products with nicotine to comply with a law approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.
Some states are also looking to ban certain flavored vaping products as the FDA has done while others have already done so.
The Associated Press reported that states that are pursuing laws after the federal ban are generally trying to align themselves with federal law so that local authorities can prosecute violators.
An Iowa Senate subcommittee has advanced a measure to raise the state’s legal age from 18 to 21 to eliminate the conflict with federal law. The proposed Iowa law would bar anyone younger than 21 from buying, possessing, or using vapor, tobacco or nicotine products.
“To me, the question boils down to one of enforcement,” Iowa state Sen. Herman Quirmbach of Ames told The Associated Press. “I think we want to empower our local police and sheriff’s departments to enforce the age of 21. We don’t want to have to rely on the feds.”
Quirmbach said he’s optimistic lawmakers will accept the proposal given the widely reported increase in the number of minors who are using the vaping devices.
At the same time, another Iowa proposal that would regulate vaping products under Iowa’s smoke-free air act is facing resistance from industry leaders who argue that vaping mist and cigarette smoke are different.
Across the river in Nebraska, a legislative committee was slated to review its own 21-and-older bill this week, and the sponsor told The AP he doesn’t anticipate any major opposition now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s policy is in place.
“It will help level the playing field among our retailers,” said Nebraska Sen. Tom Briese, the chairman of the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee.
He said under current law, “you could have one retailer who chooses to follow the FDA regulations and another down the street who thinks, ‘The FDA’s not going to visit me, I’m only going to comply with state law.’ It creates an unfair competitive advantage for the retailer who’s willing to roll the dice.”
Nebraska lawmakers will also consider a bill to prohibit youths under the age of 19 from even possessing vaping devices. Current state law only bars them from smoking the devices. Nebraska Sen. Dan Hughes introduced that bill at the request of K-12 school administrators who are struggling to keep the devices out of their buildings.
“It’s about the health and safety of our kids,” he said. “Their bodies are still growing,” and the effects of vaping aren’t fully known.
Another Nebraska bill, sponsored by Briese, would prohibit retailers from selling flavored vaping liquids except for ones that taste like menthol of tobacco. He said flavors such as chocolate, honey, vanilla and fruit could appeal to children and encourage them to take up vaping.
Unlike tobacco, the impacts of which are known after years of study, the effects of vaping are not fully known.
Iowa and Nebraska lawmakers are correct, in our view, to strive to prohibit vaping by those under 21.