Anti-smoking advocates support bills

REGION — The recent legislation sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk could alter the landscape of smoking and vaping with its sweeping changes to state law.

However, Brown has yet to sign the bills, but advocates for the massive overhaul of the issue are hoping it will be done.

Gena Knuston, program manager at the Vista Community Clinic, said the proposals, which include raising the age to buy and consume tobacco to 21 and classify vaping as tobacco, would benefit the state and public in numerous ways. However, men and women who are 18 and join the military would be exempt from the proposed age change.

If signed, California would become the second state to increase the age to 21. Hawaii was the first.

“It’s really exciting to see this at the state level,” said Knutson. “It’s really difficult to get significant legislation. E-cigarettes are a new product, they target youth, there are over 7,000 flavors … and they initiate youth to use these products.”

Knutson and the VCC, however, cannot and have not lobbied any legislators because they receive funds through Prop 99, which distributes taxes to organizations such as the VCC.

Brown, though, has yet to sign the legislation and Kelley said it may be a tactic to stall the tobacco companies from effectively sustaining a referendum in the general election in November.

Electronic cigarettes, meanwhile, have become a target for anti-smoking advocates with concerns over marketing to minors. Knuston, along with Debra Kelley of the American Lung Association in San Diego, said e-cigarettes use methods such as flavoring and other tricks to lure teenagers and young adults.

One of Knuston and Kelley’s biggest concerns, however, is the health effects from e-cigarettes, traditional smoking and vaping.

Kelley said teens between 15 to 17 are at the highest risk for addiction and e-cigarettes drive those who pick up the habit to traditional cigarettes. As a result, further health risks increase.

Yet another issue for Knuston and Kelley is the marketing of e-cigarettes on TV.

Knutson said they are advertised as cessation devices, meaning the process of quitting smoking, when there is no evidence to support such claims.

Kelley said there are also problems with the devices, as numerous reports detail how they explode causing substantial injuries.

“E-cigarettes are essentially unregulated,” Kelley said. “Our position is these products should be regulated the same way tobacco products are regulated. Although we don’t know what the long-term effects will be, there’s been enough research and evidence of concern (that) we know that these products can create lung inflammation, they can reduce the lung’s ability to protect against disease.”

As for vaping, Kelley said classifying it as a tobacco product makes sense, citing public health. She said vaping offers nicotine, which is addictive, and other issues have surfaced including inhaling metals from the coils used to generate the vapor.

Vaping advocates tout the benefits such as an easier path to quit smoking or tobacco use and being a safer alternative.

While vaping advocates state their products are 95 percent safer, Knutson and Kelley cast doubt on those claims.

“They consist of a battery, have a chamber where you put in the e-juice, the atomizer that heats up the device,” Knutson said. “I don’t know how you can really differentiate that a vaping device is much different than an e-cigarette. Preliminary reports are showing they have carcinogens.”

But is furthering bans and regulating what people consume as legal products is another topic debated between the two sides.

Once a person is 18, they can join the military, vote, pay taxes and face adult charges in criminal and civil proceedings.

Supporters and some legislators say its too much government overreach. The other side, meanwhile, state it will greatly reduce health risks and as a result, save the state millions in healthcare costs in the long term.

“Any time you are breathing a substance into your lungs, there is always going to be a chance that there is something that will harm the lungs,” Kelley said. “It’s been this drip, drip, drip of evidence that is just making our concerns about the short-term and long-term health concerns.”

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