Maryland regulators will immediately begin enforcement of a new federal ban on e-cigarette cartridges that come in flavors other than regular or menthol, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) announced on Monday.
In addition, the state will ban the sale of candy-flavored disposable e-cigarette cartridges, a move Franchot heralded as a first-in-the-nation step toward blunting a growing tide of tobacco use by young people.
“As Maryland’s tobacco regulator, it’s my legal and moral duty to ensure consumer safety, especially when it comes to our youth,” he said at an Annapolis news conference.
“Our country currently is battling an alarming epidemic of health-related issues, including deaths, among teenagers and children that have been directly attributable to the use of electronic smoking devices.”
In 2011, few young people used e-cigarettes, Franchot said. Last year, 28% of high school students reported using them, according to a health survey.
“Maryland must not sit by idly while our kids are getting addicted to nicotine,” he added.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes claim their products are intended as a way-station for smokers of traditional tobacco products who want to quit.
But health advocates claim that e-cigarettes are pouring sweet flavorings into their products to hook a new generation of users.
“The kids will not use a tobacco-flavored product because it’s repulsive,” Franchot said as he held a batch of store-bought products in the air.
The items, purchased by his staff from Maryland retailers, came in flavors called Strawberry Hard Candy, Pineapple Lemonade, Mango Bomb, Berry Gelato, Lush Ice and O.M.G.
“Oh my god, it tastes so good,” the comptroller, who intends to run for governor in 2022, said mockingly.
The federal Food and Drug Administration banned e-cigarette cartridges in flavors other than tobacco and menthol in January. That regulation took effect on Thursday.
But the FDA didn’t include disposable flavored cartridges, prompting Franchot to close what he called an “enormous loophole” that the agency buried “in a very odd footnote” in its action.
“These are the so-called flavored, disposable, electronic smoking devices that kids are now flocking to,” he said. They “entered the market recently, exclusively to fill the void left by the flavored cartridges targeted by the federal government.“
Franchot’s ramped-up enforcement comes as the General Assembly considers legislation that would ban flavored tobacco products of all kinds.
House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 233 would prohibit the sale of tobacco products “with a taste or smell of fruit, menthol, mint, wintergreen, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, honey, a candy, a dessert, an alcoholic beverage, an herb, or a spice.”
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) and the American Cancer Society support the legislation.
“Menthol in particular is a flavor proven to be especially addictive and hard to quit,” said Jocelyn Collins, Maryland government relations director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“Allowing it to stay on store shelves directly and negatively impacts communities of color, LGBT communities and those at lower socioeconomic levels residing within our state’s health coverage gaps,” she added. “These are all products that will continue to have a devastating impact on the health and well-being of our community if not addressed.”
Asked repeatedly if his office has the legal authority to crack down on a product that the FDA declined to include in its new prohibition, Franchot and his team insisted they do.
“Because the FDA has stated that these devices… are illegally marketed as sold, they are illegal under federal law,” said Justin Hayes, the regulatory manager and staff attorney in the comptroller’s office.