Latest on our e-cig legislation watch list is California, where, recently, a bill governing the sale and use of electronic cigarettes passed in the state Senate. While the bill is set to undergo a vote in the assembly before becoming law, there is good reason to believe that it will ultimately pass. In any case, we’ll keep an eye on it. So let’s get to the substance of the law. SB 24 would limit the sale of electronic cigarettes to customers under 18 years of age; should the proposed SB 151, another bill regarding tobacco sales, also pass, SB 24 contains a provision that would allow SB 151 to expand this age restriction to people under 21 years of age. The bill would also subject e-cig retailers to the same licensing requirements as tobacco retailers; presumably, the two categories show significant overlap, so these requirements will likely not place too severe of a burden on the affected retailers.
Of more concern to California vapers, though, are the SB 24 provisions imposing limitations on the public use of electronic cigarettes. For one thing, SB 24 gives landlords the right to prohibit vaping for lesees on their property. Of course, this kind of law carries absolutely no weight, seeing as it will be impossible to enforce, but its pointlessness makes it no less frustrating to see a state legislature attempt to give landlords the right to prohibit something that is entirely not their business. The bill will also subject vapers to all the same restrictions in public places that smokers must heed; for instance, vaping will be prohibited in all indoor workplaces, including for nonemployees. In addition, SB 24 also appears to do some weirder stuff, such as requiring that even out of state sellers of electronic cigarettes verify their customers’ age before completing a sale, though it’s difficult to see how such a provision would possibly be enforced, and I suspect that, for the most part, it will not.
While the law will substantially treat electronic cigarettes much like tobacco products, there is at least one favorable element to SB 24 that more restrictive laws lack. Unlike some other bills we’ve seen in other states, the bill appears to stop short of declaring electronic cigarettes to be tobacco products, ensuring that there is at least some future potential for differentiation between the two. While, currently, it appears that all the same regulations would apply to e-cigs as would to tobacco, the fact that lawmakers decided to make this subtle distinction is a good sign for the future.
Of course, the motivations put forth by California senators for the adoption of this bill are the usual culprits. Children vape, nicotine is bad, and all the other trite justifications we’ve seen in the past. Says Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco): “Of great concern is that the fastest growth segment of new users is among middle and high school students who are now smoking electronic cigarettes. They are advertised on television. They are advertised on billboards.” Clearly, the best way to curb teenage smoking is by restricting adults’ rights.
Should SB 24 pass in the assembly, most of its provisions appear to be set to take effect around the summer of 2016, so, until then, happy vaping!