State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) says tobacco lobbyists weren’t very visible around the statehouse in Sacramento this week, but he’s sure, as are most observers, that they are responsible for his legislation to regulate e-cigarettes being eviscerated in an Assembly committee.
The Governmental Organization Committee, chaired by fellow Democrat Adam Gray of Merced, voted to strike the key phrase from Senate Bill 140—equating e-cigarettes with tobacco—so Leno withdrew support for his own legislation.
“Nicotine comes from tobacco. These are tobacco products,” Leno reportedly told the committee. “It’s no small difference of opinion whether these are tobacco products or not, because if they’re not tobacco products, Big Tobacco can continue to market their ‘non-tobacco product’ to our children.”
Yes they can.
Vaping’s popularity is exploding nationally, especially among the young. It is expected to be a $10-billion industry by 2017. California passed a milestone last year when the number of 8th, 10th and 12th-graders vaping exceeded those smoking traditional tobacco. There are an estimated 1,400 vape shops in the state.
E-cigarettes, which vaporize liquids containing nicotine, have been marketed as a less harmful way of smoking and a way to help kick the old-school tobacco habit.
The e-cigarette industry, which is dominated by tobacco companies, will continue to encounter brisk competition from real cigarettes in California, because a bill to raise the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21 also died in committee.
Senator Ed Hernandez (D-L.A. County) pulled Senate Bill 151 from the same committee and he also blamed tobacco lobbyists in a statement: “Unfortunately, Big Tobacco is following their usual playbook and trying to kill this bill quietly in a committee, where they only need a handful of legislators, representing less than 14 percent of all Californians, to stop it.”
Another piece of tobacco legislation, Assembly Bill 768, aimed at banning smokeless tobacco, including e-cigarettes, at baseball stadiums was amended to apply just to weeds jammed up one’s nose and stuffed in one’s mouth. No incendiaries are included.
A Sacramento Bee analysis of lobbyist spending identified $145,000 of tobacco spending on member of the Governmental Organization Committee in the last election cycle, with Chairman Gray receiving the most.