Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rhode Island Anti-Smoking Groups Lobbying Against Ban on Electronic Cigarette Sales to Minors

Normally, public health groups support policies that protect the public's health. But in today's Rest of the Story, I reveal that one public health coalition is pushing a policy that would harm children by potentially allowing them easy access to electronic cigarettes.

A coalition of anti-smoking groups in Rhode Island, including the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, and American Heart Association, is urging Governor Chafee to veto legislation passed by the Rhode Island House and Senate which would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

According to an article in the Providence Journal:

"Banning the use of e-cigarettes by minors should be the sort of legislation antismoking groups support. Instead they are calling for a veto."

"On July 1, two days before the General Assembly ended its 2013 session, state lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting persons under the age of 18 from using or purchasing e-cigarettes and other “vapor products” that heat liquid nicotine into a smokable vapor. But a coalition that includes some of Rhode Island’s largest health advocacy groups calls the bill a “stalking horse” for tobacco and e-cigarette companies that want to exempt the growing industry from the regulations and taxes imposed on traditional tobacco-based products."

The Rest of the Story

Why would any public health group want to work to ensure that youth have free access to electronic cigarettes?

There is no legitimate public health justification for such a position.

However, there is a possible political explanation. These anti-smoking groups, which have an ideological opposition to electronic cigarettes because they look like cigarettes, don't want the electronic cigarette companies to be painted as responsible companies that have supported actions to prevent youth access to their product. Instead, they would prefer that youth do have access because if large numbers of youths do start using these products, then they can successfully argue for a ban on electronic cigarettes. If youth continue to avoid these products (as they are now), it will be difficult for these organizations to convince policy makers that they should ban the products or put severe obstacles in their way (such as high taxes or stifling regulation of their sales or marketing).

In other words, these groups are using the health of children as a political pawn in their lobbying efforts to protect tobacco products and Big Pharma products from competition from electronic cigarettes.

In my opinion, public health groups shouldn't play games like this.

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