As the popularity of electronic cigarettes grows, Indiana politicians are pushing for tougher regulations at the state level.
Legislators will consider a bill this session aimed at curbing teen use of the products.
The proposal comes shortly after a national survey revealed, for the first time ever, more teens used electronic cigarettes in 2014 than any tobacco products.
Smokers Use E-Cigarettes To Kick Their Habit
Justin Meier spends a lot of his time at Indy E-Cigs – a smoke-filled shop in downtown Bloomington.
And, he’s never felt better.
“I can breathe easier, noticed my circulation’s better,” Meier says. “I play a lot of music and my hands don’t cramp up as much as they used to.”
Meier says those dramatic changes came after he switched from smoking traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes.
“I averaged about a pack a day,” he says. “And, when I started vaping, I’d go through a 15 mil bottle every week.”
The e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, but they do contain nicotine.
It comes in liquid form, which is inserted into the e-cigarette and converted to vapor when it’s inhaled.
The staff at Indy E-Cigs says nearly all of their customers turned to vaping in an effort to quit smoking. They see at as a healthier alternative – similar to nicotine patches or gum people use to kick the habit.
“We know the negative health effects of tobacco, there’s no doubt about it, studies have been out forever,” says Indy E-Cigs Owner Alex Khoury. “So, it’s like why continue to do something we know is harmful when I have an alternative?”
Attorney General Says Vapor Shops Going Unchecked
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says there are no facts to back up claims that e-cigarettes are an effective method of cessation.
“These vape salesmen are telling people it’s healthy for you, it’s not as bad as cigarettes and it can help you beat your cigarette habit,” Zoeller says. “None of those things are really legal to say because they haven’t been proven.”
The Federal Drug Administration only regulates e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes.
That doesn’t include the products sold at most Indiana vape shops, although the FDA has issued a proposed rule that would extend their authority to cover those e-cigarettes.
The agency did a lab analysis of e-cigs from two major brands in 2009 and found detectable levels of carcinogens and toxic chemicals.
One of the cartridges contained a small amount of diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.
The tests also found that the cartridges contained different nicotine levels than what was indicated on the labels.
Zoeller says the country can’t wait any longer for the FDA to step in to put the e-cigarette industry in check, so he’s proposing regulations at the state level.
It’s already illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, but enforcement is an issue.
That’s why Zoeller wants to require all stores that sell the products to be licensed.
“That would give the Alcohol Tobacco Commission the authority to send in essentially excise police to go and check, essentially the same way they do at liquor stores,” he says.
The folks at Don’s Vapor in Broad Ripple check people’s IDs every time they come into the store.
And, requiring licensing is a measure they support.
“I respect that because if you have a license of business, I think that gives you more credibility,” says Manager Josh Smith. “It means you’re a little more professional about it anyway. And, I think the license kind of keeps in hand what kind of enforcement needs to be taken.”
Zoeller also wants legislators to consider taxing electronic cigarettes similarly to traditional cigarettes.
The money from the increased tax would be used for tobacco and vaping cessation efforts throughout the state.
But, that proposal doesn’t sit well with vape shops or their customers.
They say it punishes adults who are using the devices to quit smoking and gives people less of an incentive to make the switch.
“I think the taxes would do exactly what it’s meant to do as far as the Attorney General’s concerned which is to put a hit on the industry that is E-cigarettes.”
Another controversial aspect of the bill – including e-cigarettes in the statewide smoking ban.
Cities like Indianapolis have already banned the devices from public places in their smoke-free ordinances.
“If people see that it’s now socially acceptable to vape in public, it will be seen as healthier, not as bad as cigarettes and they’ll continue to propagate the myth that these are ways of helping you beat smoking,” Zoeller says.
The proposal would also require e-liquids to be sold in child-resistant packaging.
A Centers for Disease Control study found that the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014.
Indiana vapor shops say most e-liquid companies already use child-proof packaging.
Regulations Aimed At Curbing Teen Use Of E-Cigarettes
All of the proposals are aimed primarily at reducing the rate of electronic cigarette use among teens, which keeps increasing.
President and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute Bill Stanczykiewicz says there was a 2 percent increase in teen use of the products in 2014. And, he says there’s evidence the products are harmful to teens.
“There are several reasons for this,” he says. “One is how nicotine affects the development of the adolescent brain. It has very harmful effects as the teenage brain is still developing. At the same time, we’re normalizing the use of tobacco products. We’ve worked so hard for so many years to help kids know the dangers of nicotine and smoking the e-cigarettes are kind of re-normalizing the use of tobacco products. Nicotine can be addictive, one addictive behavior can lead to other addictive behaviors.”
Back at Indy E-Cigs in Bloomington, workers understand why there are concerns about vaping. They agree the products shouldn’t be used by teens.
But, they say before the government puts regulations in place that would also impact adults who use the products, they want to see more research conducted.
“Seems excessive to me,” Meier says. “It’s a cessation method, despite what some people say. It’s not FDA approved, but it definitely works. I know everyone in my house has quit smoking because of it.”