As expected, the Joint Public Health Committee today moved toward a  study on the dangers of vaping and revenue produced currently by e-cigarettes.

“It’s time for the legislature to step in and show some oversight,” said Sen. Jim Hendren, who tried unsuccessfully in the regular legislative session to impose some meaningful taxes on the new vaping products. They currently only are subject to the general sales tax.

Health officials, a Cancer Society lobbyist and a school official spoke of the dangers of vaping and its popularity among young people. Mentioned, too, were deregulation of safety regulation of vape shops by the last legislature and legislation that stripped communities of the ability to regulate e-cigarettes. This tobacco lobby favor was patched onto legislation to support cancer research at UAMS and health officials were stifled from talking about the topic in fear of endangering the UAMS legislation.

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The resolution for a study was introduced today and will be subject to a vote at a future meeting. Impetus for action has been provided by warnings of the dangers of vaping by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration’s move to stop Juul from advertising its vaping product as a means to stop smoking cigarettes.

Sen. Trent Garner emerged as an obstacle to broad vaping regulation. He suggested in questioning that newly reported health issues might be related to vaping of illegal drugs and he also questioned those who contend there’s no benefit to smoking cessation.  He said he’d heard from many constituents who believed vaping was of value in quitting tobacco Nathaniel Smith, the state Health secretary, disagreed. He said vaping encourages addiction rather than discouraging it. Vaping might be less damaging than cigarettes, but he said, “as of today I could not recommend any of my patients using a vaping product, regardless of age or other conditions.”

Other legislators had questions about the legislature acting in the role of parents. One asked: Does the state try to do anything to reduce traffic fatalities or sexually transmitted disease? Indeed, it does, Dr. Smith said, with some good results.

Garner was prepped with information from Juul questioning some of the reasons the FDA cited in warning the company against advertising the product as a smoking cessation benefit. He suggested the FDA action wasn’t based on solid evidence. He got strong pushback and was told there’s no disputing that Juul is advertising its product as an alternative to smoking.

Sen. Missy Irvin chaired the meeting and used her position on several occasions to voice concerns about the rise in vaping among the young, even of elementary age.

Legislators were told 44 percent of Arkansas high schoolers had tried vaping, with maybe 20 percent regular users. Which made this news story today somewhat fitting.

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