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Smoke Out: New Efforts to Curb Smoking in New Jersey Catch Fire

As FDA moves to crack down on e-cigarettes, state Senate bill would ban smoking in public parks and on beaches

vape smokeless

Smokers of all kinds -- even those who don’t technically light up -- would find it increasingly challenging to get their nicotine fix in New Jersey under new state and federal proposals designed to protect both the public’s health and treasured outdoor spaces.

The Food and Drug Administration will publish sweeping new rules on Tuesday that require “vapes” -- electronic cigarettes and similar “smokeless” devices -- to meet the same federal regulations that now govern cigarettes. The proposal, which also applies to pipe tobacco and all cigars, comes amid growing concern that the largely unregulated vape industry is addicting a new generation of smokers to a deadly habit.

The FDA rules also ban e-cig sales to anyone under 18, but other implications of the regulations -- which cover nearly 500 pages -- will take time to have a noticeable public impact, according to those in the industry. The decision gives vape manufacturers with products now on the market two years to submit data and other details to prove their devices are no more harmful than regular cigarettes; the federal government then has another year to rule on the matter. New electronic devices or products will need to go through a review in advance, and cigars and pipe tobacco are subject to a less onerous review process.

E-cigarette makers, who have said their products are safer than traditional smokes, point to a report released earlier this year by the Royal College of Physicians in London that suggests smokeless tobacco could actually be beneficial to public health. They also said that seeking government compliance will cost them billions of dollars and could force smaller business to close.

But anti-smoking advocates, like the American Lung Association, welcomed the announcement as a “long-awaited step to protect public health.” Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, said too many kids and teens are starting to smoke, adding, “At last, the Food and Drug Administration will have basic authority to make science-based decisions that will protect our nation’s youth and the public health from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah.”

In Trenton, state lawmakers revived a proposal (S-1734) with bipartisan support to ban smoking of all kinds in state, county, and local parks and beaches. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure in September, suggesting the state was overreaching. This time, sponsors agreed to allow local or county government to carve out 15 percent of the site for smokers -- urging them not to locate it next to the playground or pool. It would not apply to golf courses or parking lots.

The measure, sponsored by Sens. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), was approved by the Senate Health Committee last week and could get a hearing in the full Senate in the coming weeks. It is designed to protect both air quality and the natural and historic resources that fill New Jersey’s public forests, parks and cultural sites -- an approach that is more comprehensive than most state bans now in existence, experts suggested.

“These are lands that belong to all of us and that we’ve put a lot of public resources into buying and creating, and we shouldn’t have smoking destroy this for other people,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter. He said smoking has sparked fire damage at various state parks, bathhouses, and historic structures and that cigarette butts litter the Jersey Shore beaches.

Vitale, who chairs the health committee and has led a number of legislative efforts to reduce smoking, also welcomed the FDA rule, which is scheduled to take effect later this year. This is “a significant milestone in the fight against the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States,” he said. "The dangers of tobacco use are unquestionable. And in recent years, there has been an alarming increase in vaping among youth.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigs are becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people. In 2011, 2 percent of high school students used e-cigs; by 2014 use had jumped to 13 percent. Even among middle-school pupils, e-cig use grew from 1 percent to 4 percent over those years.

Vitale has also proposed a plan to plug one concern not addressed by the federal regulations; in January he introduced a bill (S-298) that would ban the sale of any flavored tobacco products or liquid additives for smokeless devices.

“This is totally unregulated, we have people making their own flavors, there may be other carcinogens,” he said. The ban is “for the same reason that New Jersey banned [most] flavored tobacco products.”

Traditional cigarettes flavored with menthol and cloves would continue to be allowed, as they are now; the current law bans all other flavors in regular smokes but doesn’t address e-cigs.

The bill notes the recent proliferation of fruit- and candy-flavored cigarettes and vape products that have a natural appeal to children. And studies have shown that the earlier smokers start, the more likely they are to become addicted.

Higher smoking rates lead to “higher health care costs, and a greater incidence of smoking-related illness and death,” the bill states. “Flavored cigarettes and flavored electronic devices pose a significant threat to the health of the general public, and the protection of the public health warrants that the sale and distribution of these products be prohibited in this State.”

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