Lawmakers Seek to Close Gap in Mail-Order Vape Sales

Lilo H. Stainton | February 12, 2019 | Health Care
Assemblyman ‘unapologetic’ about the latest effort to curb nicotine addiction, especially among young New Jerseyans

Credit: Vaping360
Delivery services would need to secure the signature of a resident over age 21 before they could leave a package containing any tobacco or electronic-cigarette products at any New Jersey home, under a new proposal that state lawmakers are considering.

The Democratic-led legislation seeks to close one of the remaining holes in the state’s regulatory framework to limit access by minors to tobacco products and smoking devices — including e-cigarettes, or vapes, which heat nicotine-infused oil to create a vapor that is then inhaled; the devices have soared in popularity among teens.

You must already be at least 21 years old to purchase tobacco products in the Garden State, which also prohibits smoking in public places, including (as of last month) parks and beaches. But some products, including e-cigarettes and their frequently flavored oil pods, are available online. And, while websites may require visitors to attest they are of legal age, it is hard to control who places orders and receives shipments.

“You don’t know who is purchasing these items,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), a sponsor of the bill, which cleared the health committee Thursday with unanimous support. “This will help fill any gaps in the laws we have.”

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While smoking rates had been declining for years, new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that tobacco use is rising among young people nationwide. More than one in four high school students smoked or vaped within the previous month, the CDC found, and use of any tobacco product grew by nearly 40 percent between 2017 and 2018. Other federal studies have shown e-cigarette use alone jumped by 77 percent last year.

Vaping among NJ teens

In New Jersey, e-cigarettes have become the most popular form of nicotine among teens, with more than one in five public high school students using vapes at some point during the 2016-2017 school year, according to results of the “Youth Tobacco Survey” released Monday by the state Department of Health. Nearly 40 percent said they had tried tobacco at some point and 17 percent claimed to be regular users.

“It’s really an epidemic of teens who are now vaping. The stats are alarming,” Vainieri Huttle said.

Tobacco product use among high school students in 2018: Click to expand/close
To address these trends, in November the state Department of Health committed some $7 million to help combat e-cigarette use in particular, with funds from tobacco tax revenue. The work includes the creation of 11 regional “quit centers,” a statewide public awareness campaign, social media outreach and county-based peer groups to help young people.

In addition, the state’s telephone-counseling service — NJ Quitline (1-866-657-8677) — has agreed to make electronic referrals for smoking-cessation services for those who want to quit. Last year, the state Department of Human Services expanded Medicaid coverage for tobacco-free programs.

The legislative proposal (A-4896) — also sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington), a physician who heads the health committee, and John Armato (D-Atlantic) — would amend existing laws to prohibit individuals from completing the delivery of a tobacco product or e-cigarette device to any Garden State residence without first obtaining the signature of a person, 21 years of age or older who lives there. The measure was introduced in mid-January; a companion bill by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer) was added last week, but has yet to get a hearing.

A task for couriers

Under the proposal, a courier would need to have a “reasonable belief” the individual receiving the package was of legal age or had produced a government-issued identification card, before the courier could leave the package; they would not be held responsible if the recipient used a fake ID, however. Delivery services that do not go through these steps could face fines similar to those for other tobacco offenses, of $250 for onetime violations to $1,000 for repeat incidents; enforcement appears to be left to local code officials.

A few other states — including Massachusetts and Virginia — have implemented “ID at delivery requirements” for tobacco-related products, according to Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit that advocates for “sensible regulation” but is not an industry representative.

But Conley, a Garden State resident, questioned how effective New Jersey’s proposal would be without rigorous enforcement. He also noted that federal law prohibits states from regulating tobacco product transport by truck, which could conflict with the proposal, as drafted.

Lawmakers, however, are looking at all options to restrict tobacco access for young people and limit the impact of its use over time. Smoking can cause a range of cancers and exacerbate heart and lung problems, among other concerns; an estimated 12,000 New Jerseyans die each year of smoking-related issues, according to the DOH.

“Cigarette smoking has shortened the lives of countless loved ones and friends,” Armato said.

“This bill can help serve as a tool to prevent the lifelong addiction typically associated with smoking,” Conaway said. “I am unapologetic about seeking solutions to curbing nicotine addiction, especially in young people.”