When it comes to the controversial question of how the state of Iowa should regulate e-cigarettes, there already are a few key points of common ground:

— Just about everyone (if not absolutely everyone) agrees that ingesting nicotine through the vapor provided by e-cigarettes is a significantly healthier (at least, less-dangerous) activity than ingesting nicotine through the combination of tobacco smoke, chemicals and carcinogens found in cigarettes.

Now, there still needs to be studies done on just how much healthier/less-dangerous e-cigarettes are, and there still needs to be studies done on the second-hand effects of the nicotine vapor given off by the product. But e-cigarettes clearly are a healthier/less-dangerous alternative to regular ol' tobacco cigarettes.

— And just about everyone also agrees that there needs to be some regulation of e-cigarettes, if only to ensure that they are made automatically available to children. Industry lobbyists and public health advocates alike agree on those portions of proposed legislation that restrict anyone under the age of 18 from buying e-cigarettes.

But that's about where the level of agreement ends.

Industry lobbyists want legislation that, while restricting sales to minors, also clarifies that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products and, thus, shouldn't be subject to any of the other restrictions the state in place for tobacco products. That means the products wouldn't be subject to the heavy tax rate the state places on tobacco products (putatively because of the negative effect such products have on public health). Nor would e-cigarettes be included in the restrictions outlined in the Smoke-Free Air Act, which prohibits smoking (but not necessarily vaping) in most public, indoor spaces.

Public health lobbyists, however, want legislation to make it clear that it really doesn't matter whether the "cigarette" in question has an "e'' in front of it or not. They view the current legislative proposals as "a deal with the devil" or "a Trojan horse," in which — in the name of supposedly protecting children — the state would be giving tobacco producers and marketers the ability to skirt regulations for selling to adults and thus undermine years of successful anti-smoking campaigns.

Lobbyists from groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Iowa Public Health Association have formally opposed the bill and are calling on lawmakers to turn down any legislation that includes definitions for "alternative nicotine products" or "vapor products" and creates a legal difference between e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. And Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has asked for lawmakers to allow the state to regulate e-cigarettes just as it does tobacco products.

Unfortunately, this state-level debate is playing out in the absence of firm direction from federal authorities on the regulation of e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a statement on the devices later this year, and we think state lawmakers should think twice about agreeing to any "deal with the devil" until the feds weigh in.

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Feb. 9, 2014

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