A week after the Texas Senate passed a bill to prevent minors from buying electronic cigarettes, House lawmakers on Tuesday considered similar legislation they say would protect young Texans from addictive nicotine products.
The House Public Health Committee took up five bills that would extend current restrictions on tobacco products to vapor products like e-cigarettes. Texas retailers are banned from selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to customers younger than 18, but sales of e-cigarettes to minors are allowed.
Texas is one of nine states that allow minors to buy e-cigarettes, which are considered less toxic than conventional cigarettes but contain the addictive substance nicotine.
State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, author of a bills that would ban e-cigarette sales to minors, said her 14-year-old daughter could walk down the street from her school, enter a shop and legally purchase an electronic cigarette.
“As a parent, I’m not comfortable with this situation,” Collier said. Right now, she said, it’s left to individual business owners to choose not to sell vapor products to minors.
Bills filed by Collier and fellow Reps. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Oscar Longoria, D-Mission; and Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would all restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to people younger than 18 years old. The bills differ mainly by referring to the products they seek to ban as either “vapor products,” “nicotine products” or “e-cigarettes.” The committee did not vote on any of the bills Tuesday.
Electronic cigarettes have grown steadily in popularity since they were introduced in 2005 and now represent a $3 billion industry worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. They are often marketed as a method for smokers to quit tobacco cigarettes.
But there’s concern that e-cigarettes can also act as a gateway to more harmful tobacco products.
Last week on the Senate floor, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, called e-cigarettes “training devices” that young people use before moving on to products like tobacco cigarettes. The Senate passed Hinojosa’s Senate Bill 97 to make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors.
The World Health Organization has also warned that with fruit and candy-like flavors, e-cigarettes can seem even more attractive to youths.
On Tuesday, several high school students from Central Texas testified in favor of restricting e-cigarette sales.
“Texas has the opportunity with this bill to create environments that are safer, cleaner and healthier for children now and in the future,” said James Collins, a Hays High School senior and vice chairman of the Kyle Area Youth Advisory Council. The group started advocating against electronic cigarette use by minors after several students noticed classmates "vaping" on campus.
“The e-cigarette is the device, and the vapor is the component that can actually cause harm to health,” Collins said. “In addition to nicotine being in the vapor, minors can also use the device as a way to deliver hash oil and even methamphetamine. The exploitation of the device, specifically vaporization, goes a lot deeper.”
Andy Garza, a junior at Lehman High School in Kyle, told the story of a friend who felt addicted to e-cigarettes.
“She didn’t know that it was addictive, because many people are misinformed,” Garza said. “They think it’s healthy. They think there’s nothing wrong with it. They think it’s fun.”