By Mariah Baca
More than one in four middle school and high school students use e-cigarettes daily and now some state lawmakers want to ban all flavored tobacco products.
Approximately 85% of kids’ tobacco use is flavored e-cigarettes, according to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey Findings. Banning the flavored versions will make vaping less attractive to young people, supporters say.
“Flavors mask the harshness of tobacco and make it easier for new users, particularly youth, to try e-cigarettes, and ultimately become addicted,” said Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces.
Ferrary and Rep. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, are sponsoring House Bill 94, which would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in New Mexico.
The bill had its first hearing Jan. 30, when the House Health and Human Services Committee gave it a do-pass recommendation with the support of five Democrats. All three Republican committee members and one Democrat voted against it.
In New Mexico, more than half of high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2019, according to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey conducted by New Mexico Department of Health for the Centers for Disease Control. The survey measures risky behavior, including sexual activity, drinking, and drugs, all of which have gone down in recent years—except vaping.
Still, the bill faced backlash from some in the audience.
Scott Scanland, a lobbyist for tobacco giant Altria, told the committee that cannabis gummies are a more critical problem than tobacco. “Children are getting into their parents’ cannabis stashes and gummies and this bill does not address cannabis issues,” he said.
Altria is the maker of Marlboro cigarettes and Juul vape pods, which had been pulled from the market by the FDA after being linked to an explosion in vaping among kids.
Other powerful interested oppose the measure, also comparing it to cannabis.
“I think …we should have this discussion and have some parity amongst those two things and not try to pick winners and losers on the issue,” said John Thompson, a lobbyist for a retail trade organization.
Rep. Harlen Vincent, R-Ruidoso Downs opposed the bill, saying he was a smokeless tobacco user trying to quit.
He said people who are trying to get off tobacco will have fewer options if flavored e-cigarettes are banned.
“By doing this we’re punishing our law-abiding people who wanna smoke the unicorn milk, or whatever different flavors they have,” Vincent said.
Despite the opposition the bill passed on a 5–4 vote.
The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Follow Mariah Baca on Twitter @_mariahb20.