Bid for CT ban on flavored vape ends after jockeying by lawmakers

Photo of Julia Bergman
Flavored vaping solutions in a window display at a vape and smoke shop in New York.

Flavored vaping solutions in a window display at a vape and smoke shop in New York.

Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press

The state Senate late Tuesday killed a measure that would have banned flavored e-cigarettes in Connecticut, after its main advocate said the ban was “riddled with major loopholes,” leaving tens of thousands of children and teens unprotected.

“The Connecticut Legislature is making it quite clear that it will sell out Connecticut’s kids to do the bidding of Juul and Altria instead,” Matthew Myers, president of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a written statement earlier Tuesday.

Myers had said he’d rather see no ban at all than the diluted version the Senate and House ended up with. Sen. Cathy Osten, co-chair of Appropriations Committee, announced Tuesday night that Democrats were recommending the section be killed.

Earlier this year, the legislature’s Public Health Committee passed a bill that would have banned all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, but that bill was diluted. Then over the last few days, it was gutted further — without the knowledge of the committee co-chairs who had supported it.

In the General Assembly’s special session this week, the measure was added to the 857-page budget “implementer” that lawmakers adopt at the end of each spring session.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chair of the public health committee, said earlier Tuesday he and fellow Democratic co-chair Sen. Mary Abrams were not consulted about the changes, and that he was first alerted to them by “one of the interested parties.”

Steinberg said he was not aware who was behind the new language, but he “suspects the industry had their fingerprints on it.”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was concerned that the proposal included in the implementer targeted the manufacturing of tobacco products, which are approved and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, rather than restricting the sale of these products.

That could have made Connecticut more subject to lawsuits from the vaping industry, which has sued other states that have implemented bans. The proposal also would’ve provided too many exemptions to benefit the industry, the group said, and would’ve handed over too much control to the FDA.

The bill would have exempted any product that the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services determines to be a “modified risk tobacco product,” which indicates it poses lower health risks compared to existing products on the market such as cigarettes.

It also made an exception for products for which a manufacturer has applied for or received a marketing order from the FDA, which is needed to legally market a new tobacco product in the U.S.

“By handing over the decision to the Food and Drug Administration, Connecticut is deferring to an agency that has a poor track record of putting the interests of kids first,” Myers said. “It was the FDA’s failure to act that largely created the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use and the need to eliminate these dangerous and addictive products.”

After nonpartisan budget analysts said the state could lose nearly $200 million in tax revenue over the next two years from a ban on menthol cigarettes, the co-chairmen of the finance committee, Rep. Sean Scanlon of Guilford and Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford, removed that ban.

Gov. Ned Lamont had proposed a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, except for menthol cigarettes, in his state budget. His staff fought unsuccessfully to keep the ban intact during budget negotiations. A spokesman for the governor said Tuesday that Lamont still believes his proposed ban is the best policy for Connecticut.