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D.C. bills would block e-cigarette sales without a prescription, ban flavored products

A bottle of Banana Crunch flavored vape juice for electronic cigarettes at Sinbad Vapors in Peru, Ill. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

D.C. lawmakers on Tuesday proposed sweeping measures to curb the rise of youth vaping, including a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and requiring a prescription to buy other electronic smoking products.

A bill introduced by D.C. Council Member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) would ban the sale of vaping products at any location that is not a medical marijuana dispensary or a pharmacy. The District would be the first U.S. jurisdiction with such stringent restrictions on e-cigarette sales.

“We are quite literally watching a new generation of young people get hooked on nicotine through vaping,” said Gray, who chairs the health committee.

The anti-vaping bills come a week after President Trump announced plans to ban most flavored e-cigarettes unless the products are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Michigan became the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes earlier this month, and on Tuesday, New York state enacted a ban that became effective immediately.

On Monday, Montgomery County announced legislation that would ban vape shops and delivery of e-cigarettes to stores within a half-mile of middle or high schools.

Anti-vaping law would close most shops in Montgomery County

“All this underscores the extent of the public health emergency presented by e-cigarettes, and the District cannot wait for the federal government to act,” said D.C. Council Member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who introduced the bill to ban flavored e-cigarettes. “The industry targets young people with blatantly youth appealing flavors like cotton candy and gummy bears, and the strategy works.”

Anti-tobacco advocates are pressing states and localities to restrict e-cigarettes, even though the federal government is already doing so.

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“The tobacco industry will do everything it can to delay, weaken and defeat the FDA’s proposal and is certain to challenge it in court,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “That means it’s more important than ever for cities and states to protect kids by prohibiting the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes.”

The District already has some of the nation’s toughest tobacco laws with a smoking age of 21, nearly $5 in taxes on a pack of cigarettes and a prohibition on vaping in bars.

E-cigarettes have been pitched as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes because vaping involves heating nicotine into inhalable vapor without tar and other chemicals. But nicotine remains addictive and vaping has been linked to lung disease, according to federal data.

Maryland, Virginia are among states reporting vaping-related illness

Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association said bans on flavored e-cigarettes are misguided because the flavors are also attractive to adults looking to stop using traditional cigarettes.

“A ban on flavored vaping products will lead to fewer adults quitting and will not succeed at impeding youth access,” Conley said in an email.

Cheh said she is not convinced that adults need fruity flavors to make the switch.

“Even if there were some narrow slice of adults for whom that would be determinative, it’s more important we protect the children,” Cheh said.

She said she is also considering legislation to prohibit vaping and similar shops from opening within a half-mile of a school, in response to a store that recently opened within walking distance of Alice Deal Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School in her district.

A majority of the Council introduced the flavored e-cigarette ban, including Cheh, Gray, Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8).

Gray’s bill to restrict e-cigarette sales to pharmacies and marijuana dispensaries had less support, with Grosso, Cheh, Allen and Bonds co-introducing it.

Aides to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not return a request for comment.

FDA unveils sweeping anti-tobacco measures to curb youth vaping

In a statement, Juul said the company would “continue to combat youth usage, while supporting reasonable access to vapor products for adults looking to switch from combustible cigarettes.”

The council also voted Tuesday to authorize the city to petition D.C. Superior Court to enforce subpoenas in an internal ethics probe of D.C. Council Member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).

Evans is also the target of federal grand jury investigation into possible conflicts between his public duties and his private business interests.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), said the move was necessary because key witnesses in the investigation refused to comply with subpoenas issued by a law firm hired by the council to investigate Evans.

Evans, who has cooperated with investigators, did not recuse himself from the vote on Tuesday. He cast the lone “no” vote, citing his earlier opposition to the investigation.

Lawmakers also introduced bills to overhaul the District’s minority and local business contract preference program and to extend rent control rules set to expire next year.

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