State and federal lawmakers targeting e-cigarette regulations

Prineville and Crook County officials passed ordinances this past year that defined how e-cigarettes would be regulated in the community.

Because no federal or state laws governed the sale of the nicotine-based items to minors, local leaders felt it best to restrict them locally in hopes of keeping them out of the hands of minors.

Now, federal and state lawmakers have taken action to accomplish the same goal throughout Oregon and the rest of the country.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) initially joined other congressmen last spring in urging the Food and Drug Administration to extend tobacco regulations to e-cigarettes.

In a letter signed by Merkley, lawmakers said “it is important that the agency recognize the potential health impacts associated not only with the direct inhalation of liquid nicotine through e-cigarettes, but also the impacts that the emitting vapor or plume may have both to the user and the secondhand inhalers.”

The letter stated it was critical that the FDA’s oversight keep pace with new nicotine delivery products given the information emerging about the health risks they pose.

“In the absence of federal oversight, makers of these products have taken advantage of a regulatory black hole by marketing these new nicotine delivery products directly to youth,” lawmakers wrote, “including through use of bright colors, cartoons, and flavors including cotton candy and bubble gum.”

Earlier this month, Merkley met with FDA leaders to further urge them to regulate e-cigarettes.

“It has been almost six years since the FDA was given authority to regulate tobacco products like e-cigarettes and tobacco candy and we are still waiting for some type of regulation,” he said. “In the meantime, more and more children are being introduced to a lifetime of dependence on nicotine through deceptive marketing and flavorings and complete failure to regulate e-cigarettes. Further delay is unacceptable.”

As those efforts continue at the federal level, Oregon lawmakers are considering legislation that would regulate the sale of e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery systems in the same manner as tobacco. House Bill 2546 passed the House on March 2 and has been referred to the Senate’s Health Care committee for further action.

As work on state and federal regulations continue, local leaders have already begun implementing new rules that restrict e-cigarette sales and possession in Prineville and Crook County. Both the city and county ordinances prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and require retailers to restrict access to such products.

“What we have done so far with the city ordinance is educate retailers, since it starts at the retail level for placement and sales to minors,” said Kris Williams, tobacco prevention coordinator with the Crook County Health Department. “We sent a letter signed by Mayor (Betty) Roppe to all of the in-city retailers regarding the new ordinance. I followed up personally with a representative from the Prineville Police Department a month later.”

Similar strategies exist for the county ordinance which will take effect on March 17.

Although enforcement of law is defined in each ordinance, Williams said local efforts will focus primarily on education.

“If you do the education correctly, there is little to no enforcement piece with it, except possession,” she said.

While the local ordinances are expected to adequately regulate e-cigarette sales and possession in Crook County, Williams still welcomes similar laws at the state and federal level.

“I think it will definitely have an impact as far as reinforcing our local ordinance as well as more of an education process,” she said. “If in fact the state and federal government do pass laws prohibiting possession by minors and sales to minors, and limit the access to minors, hopefully there will be an education piece along with that.”