Connecticut lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on legislation that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products as well as prohibit the use of vapes while in a vehicle with a child.
The bill is the most recent effort by members of the legislature’s Public Health Committee to take flavored nicotine products off the market in an effort to reduce smoking and vaping among young people. Similar legislation has failed to make it across the finish line during recent legislative sessions.
This year’s proposal makes an exception that would allow the continued sale of menthol products. That exemption was a sticking point for supporters of the concept during Wednesday’s public hearing.
Ruth Canovi, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Connecticut, thanked the committee for the intention of the bill but said her organization could not support the legislation because it did not go far enough.
“Exempting menthol would create a two-tiered system of public health inequity, disproportionately protecting predominantly white communities where e-cigarettes are more popular while leaving kids behind in predominantly Black, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities where menthol is more popular,” Canovi said.
On the other hand, the committee heard feedback arguing against any ban at all. In written testimony, several retailers argued the prohibition on flavored products would hurt Connecticut store owners and benefit those in other states which had not enacted the policy.
In 2019, Massachusetts adopted a similar prohibition that has limited tobacco sales to non-flavored products and limited flavored vape sales to special adult-only tobacco stores. Retailer Bachir Abboud pointed to the impact of that law in testimony Wednesday.
“Massachusetts has taught us that consumers will simply travel across state lines to purchase their preferred products which means this bill will only hurt local businesses and not achieve the sponsor’s intentions,” Abboud wrote.
Meanwhile, Richard Marianos, a former assistant director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the committee that passing the law would encourage an illicit market for flavored nicotine products.
“A prohibition anywhere, any way you look at it is going to create crime,” Marianos said. “Once you begin to outlaw flavored products you’re going to bring in the black market… Bad policy does result in unintended consequences.”
Under questioning by Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, Marianos, who is now an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University, acknowledged that some of his academic work has been sponsored by the tobacco industry.
“I do use this material in my Georgetown class and because of that, the tobacco industry does sponsor myself or some of my testimony, using some of my academic work as part of their effort to keep tobacco products out of the hands of nefarious criminals,” Marianos said.
Others told the panel it was time that Connecticut adopt the ban on flavored products as well as the legislation’s prohibition on vaping in the same vehicle as someone under the age of 18.
In written testimony, Kathleen Silard, president and CEO of Stamford Health, said that while the negative health impacts of vaping were not yet fully understood, second hand smoke from vape devices represented a risk to children.
“The inhalation of secondhand smoke from vaping in a motor vehicle exposes occupants to significant risk towards developing inflammatory lung disease, commonly referred to as Popcorn lung, later in life,” Silard wrote.