New Leno Bill Protects Public Against Exposure to E-Cigarettes

January 26, 2015

Nation’s Leading Health Advocacy Groups Support SB 140, Which Prohibits Smoking of E-Cigarettes at Workplaces, Schools, Restaurants and Hospitals

SACRAMENTO – Sen. Mark Leno has teamed up with the nation’s leading health advocacy groups to introduce new legislation that protects the public against exposure to electronic cigarettes. Senate Bill 140 addresses growing health concerns related to e-cigarettes by ensuring they are accurately defined as tobacco products and fall under the state’s existing smoke-free laws.

“No tobacco product should be exempt from California’s smoke-free laws simply because it’s sold in a modern or trendy disguise,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Addiction is what’s really being sold. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a cloud of other toxic chemicals, and their use should be restricted equally under state law in order to protect public health.”

California’s Smoke Free Act prohibits smoking at workplaces, schools, daycares, restaurants, bars, hospitals and on public transportation, protecting Californians from secondhand smoke and reducing the acceptability of smoking in general. E-cigarettes, however, do not fall under this existing law and are largely unregulated, despite a restriction on sales to minors. SB 140 fixes this loophole and aligns state law with proposed federal regulations that define e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The bill is co-sponsored by a coalition of national health organizations, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and American Lung Association.

“There is currently no scientific evidence establishing the safety of e-cigarettes,” said Kimberly Amazeen, Vice President Public Policy and Advocacy, American Lung Association in California. “In fact, initial studies have found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and nitrosamines, coming from secondhand e-cigarette emissions.”

Recent studies show that e-cigarettes pose potentially serious health risks to smokers and those who inhale secondhand vapors. In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration found cancer‐causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in antifreeze, in two leading brands of e‐cigarettes. The same study also discovered that e-cigarettes labeled as “nicotine‐free” had traceable levels of nicotine. In addition, a 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in e-cigarette vapor.

“Just like they did 50 years ago with light cigarettes, tobacco companies are trying to fool the public by marketing e-cigarettes as a healthy alternative, which we know is not true,” said Tim Gibbs, Senior Director of Government Relations for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. "The market share of the e-cigarette industry is increasingly controlled by Big Tobacco, but even the independent companies falsely claim their e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine derived from tobacco, are not tobacco products.”

E-cigarette use has climbed exponentially in recent years, especially among young people, who are drawn to the products’ enticing flavors like cotton candy, bubble gum and chocolate. More than a quarter of a million youth who had never smoked a traditional cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013, according to a Centers for Disease Control study. This number reflects a three-fold increase between 2011 and 2013. Despite a California ban on sales to minors under 18, many youth are still able to access e-cigarettes due to a lack of enforcement. SB 140 ensures that e-cigarettes fall under the 1994 Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act, which has successfully reduced illegal sales of traditional cigarettes to minors in the state.

“This important public health legislation will improve the well-being of our state and help keep our children from picking up the smoking habit,” said Dr. Diane Sobkowicz, board president of the Sacramento Division of the American Heart Association and director of the Women’s Heart Program at Sutter Heart & Vascular Institute. “Regulating e-cigarettes as a tobacco product is not a new idea, but the time to act is now. The use of e-cigarettes is increasing among all populations, with usage among middle school students rising faster than any other group. Failing to act now would leave our children vulnerable.”

Three states, North Dakota, New Jersey and Utah, restrict e-cigarette use in established smoke-free venues, while more than a dozen other states have limited their use in specific public places such as daycares, schools, universities, hospitals and prisons. In California, 122 cities and counties have prohibited the use of e-cigarettes in some outdoor and indoor areas.

SB 140 will be heard in policy committees in the Senate this spring.