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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Veto session sparks debate over role of e-cigarettes

Jonny Williams

Of the numerous items Missouri legislators will consider during this veto session, Senate Bill 841 has state health advocates paying attention. The bill's main purpose was to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. But these good intentions may have led lawmakers astray.

"This bill has the façade of regulation, but in reality it's a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Jeff Harris, the Governor's Director of Policy.

In addition to the ban for minors, the vetoed bill would have exempted e-cigarette companies from the taxes and advertising regulations applied regular tobacco products.

Many health advocacy groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, have spoken out against the bill. Traci Kennedy, Executive Director of Tobacco Free Missouri, said  exempting e-cigarettes from current regulations would let tobacco companies make their own rules.

"[Health advocates] have some real concerns about creating a gap and letting the industry fill that space with how they want these products regulated," Kennedy said.

While Senate Bill 841 might seem like an appeal to tobacco companies, Kennedy said the legislature may not have imagined the implications of the bill when they included the proposed exemptions.

"Elected officials are faced with a short amount of time to learn a lot about a lot of different issues," Kennedy said. "They just wanted to do something. They just wanted to push something through and go back and fix it later."

Governor Nixon has been campaigning to defend his veto of Senate Bill 841. In a press conference held last Wednesday, he said continuing to pursue regulations of e-cigarettes is unnecessary for the state because action from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is well underway.

But the FDA's current plan for e-cigarettes is not as extensive as current laws for regular tobacco products. The proposed regulations would not ban celebrity or television advertisements. It also would not prevent e-cigarette companies from making flavors that might entice youth, like bubble gum or cotton candy.

Even if Nixon doesn't convince health advocates and lawmakers that the FDA's rules are enough, Senate Bill 841 may not even be a debate during this year's busy veto session.

"Every week  that's gone by since session concluded, more studies have been released," Kennedy said. "We believe [lawmakers] want to do what's best to protect the youth of Missouri and unfortunately, this bill just doesn't accomplish that."

Hope Kirwan left KBIA in September 2015.
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