Lawmakers on the Public Health Committee were urged Wednesday to pass new and tougher legislation next year to regulate electronic cigarettes and vapor products in Connecticut.
Gregory Carver, program coordinator for the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS), read a statement from DMHAS Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, stating there is a “new nicotine epidemic’’ in Connecticut and that epidemic is e-cigarettes.
A parade of smoking cessation experts told legislators the same thing as Public Health co-chairs Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, and Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, and the rest of the committee listened.
Even though the General Assembly is not in session, the Public Health Committee returned to the state Capitol Wednesday to determine whether Connecticut should do more to regulate electronic cigarettes and vapor products.
Lawmakers passed legislation last year prohibiting people from smoking e-cigarettes and other vapor products in state buildings, restaurants, schools and other facilities.
That same law required the Public Health Committee to hold a public hearing to further examine the issue within 30 days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined e-cigarettes are tobacco products and subjected to the same restrictions as cigarettes.
The FDA announced its ruling – that e-cigarettes are tobacco products – on May 5th of this year.
Committee members are now required to review the FDA rule and determine whether to recommend additional state legislation affecting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vapor products, which have prompted concerns about potential health risks.
Carver, again reading from a statement written by Delphin-Rittmon, said that usage of e-cigarettes by youth in the country had “doubled’’ in recent years. She said she “applauds’’ the FDA’s ruling that e-cigarettes are tobacco products.
Also applauding that FDA decision was Jennifer DeWitt, executive director of Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council (CNVRAC).
DeWitt said of particular concern is the increasing number of young people who are experimenting with e-cigarettes, and, how many of them become addicted to the nicotine and then become full-time smokers.
“Every school principal I have worked with has a desk drawer full of these e-cigarette or vaping devices,’’ said DeWitt. “Some of have them have been tampered with to use for marijuana. And we aren’t just talking about high schools. They are also in the middle schools, too.’’
DeWitt described herself as a “20-year, pack-a-day smoker,’’ who kicked the habit. “I strongly support passing tougher legislation to protect Connecticut residents against e-cigarettes which have the same addictive nicotine characteristics as cigarettes do.’’
DeWitt added: “We will backslide if we don’t enact legislation that determines e-cigarettes are as dangerous as tobacco.’’
Dr. Raul Pino, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said the FDA’s labeling of e-cigarettes as a tobacco product was a “positive step towards the protection of public health.’’
Bryte Johnson, director of Government Relations & Advocacy for the American Cancer Society in the New England Region, told the committee, “This issue is not going away. I strongly urge you to address this is your next session.’’
Johnson said the FDA ruling gives states the “clarity’’ needed for all states, including Connecticut, to enact tougher legislation regarding e-cigarettes. “You now have the path to regulate these devices as tobacco products, nothing more, nothing less,’’ said Johnson.
Gerratana said the testimony at the public hearing was clearly fodder for the Public Health Committee to digest and consider – and likely act on going forward.
“I believe I see the outlines of a bill for us next year,’’ said Gerratana.