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NATIONAL REPORT — As the industry waits on the Food and Drug Administration to issue final regulations on electronic cigarettes, states across the country are taking matters into their own legislative hands.
To date, 41 states have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to consumers under 18 years old, according to a report by USA Today.
In addition, legislators in 26 states are considering e-cigarette bills in the current legislative session. Several of these measures would limit local action, and others would impose additional regulations such as requiring childproof packaging.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recently vetoed a bill banning e-cigarette sales to minors because it would not have regulated them as tobacco products, the report noted.
States are struggling to protect consumers without hurting the e-cigarette and vapor industry. For example, Michigan state Sen. Rick Jones (R-24th District) said only adults should be able to use e-cigarettes. He added that the products are no different than nicotine patches or gum and should be taxed the same way, with a sales tax.
"They are simply a nicotine delivery device," said Jones, who was disappointed that Snyder vetoed Michigan's bill. "They are not tobacco cigarettes. I cannot support taxing them that way."
Ohio state Rep. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hillard), meanwhile, said she can't see imposing a "sin tax" on e-cigarettes before science has shown whether they're harmful.
Minnesota is now the only state to tax e-cigarettes. A tax in North Carolina is scheduled to take effect in July, USA Today reported.
According to the news outlet, the industry itself has been active in shaping policy. Reynolds American Inc., which owns both R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., believes taxing e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes would "place hurdles that would discourage cigarette smokers from considering switching" to e-cigarettes, said spokesman Richard Smith.
Part of the debate centers around the potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes. The California Department of Public Health issued a warning last month urging people to avoid e-cigarettes because of their health risks. The American Cancer Society has also expressed concerns about the safety of e-cigarettes in light of a new study published in January in The New England Journal of Medicine that found e-cigarettes produce high levels of formaldehyde.
Other public health advocates say e-cigarettes have the potential to help smokers quit. Although there is no long-term data to show their effectiveness, e-cigarettes seem to work at least as well as other nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum, said Thomas Glynn, a consulting professor in cancer prevention at Stanford University.