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Lawmaker, tobacco companies, to support bill banning e-cig sales to minors

Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, will propose a bill for the February 2014 Oregon legislative session banning electronic cigarette sales to minors.

Olson, who could not be reached for comment, told the Oregonian’s Yuxing Zheng that the bill has the support of lobbyists for Reynolds American Inc., the giant tobacco company, and he predicts it can pass in the one-month session.

As reported by the Portland Tribune on Nov. 21 (www.pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/201715-e-cigs-spark-burning-questions%20) anti-tobacco forces do not expect to push any bills in the short February session regarding electronic cigarettes, though “e-cigs” remain largely unregulated in Oregon.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, says getting any bills passed in Salem would require support from anti-tobacco advocates such as the Oregon cancer, lung and heart associations, and they’re not ready to pursue state legislation right now.

But there’s an exception for bills limiting e-cig sales to those 18 or older. That’s because tobacco companies like the idea, and even promote it in other states.

Twenty-eight states — 13 of them this year — have enacted legislation so far limiting e-cig sales to those 18 and older, says Richard Smith, lead communications manager for RJ Reynolds Vapor Co. “And we want it to be 50,” Smith says.

The vapor company, an arm of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, expects to start national sales of its Vuse e-cig soon, he says.

Tobacco companies like to support bans on selling to minors, Tomei says, in hopes of fending off more rigorous regulations. “It gets us off their back,” she says.

Perhaps as a result, anti-tobacco forces have not been leading the way among those states adopting bans on e-cig sales to minors.

Jason Parks, a lobbyist for The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Portland, says some bills being debated in other states are now originating from the tobacco industry, not groups such as his employer.

Nevertheless, Tomei says she supports Olson’s effort.

“I think it’s a great first step, but it’s just a first step,” says Tomei, the leading anti-tobacco crusader in the Oregon Legislature.

E-cigs are not taxed at all in Oregon, unlike other tobacco products. They come in sweet and savory flavors, which critics say are alluring to minors, while all but menthol flavors are banned for regular cigarettes. And e-cigs do not fall under Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act.

Tomei and other anti-tobacco allies would eventually like to see them taxed, with limits placed on flavored “juices” used with the e-cigs.

“We need to tax it just like we do other nicotine products,” Tomei says. “I’d like to ban the fruity ones.”

But at this point, neither Tomei nor public health groups are ready to push such bills in Oregon.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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