New legislation proposed June 5 by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., would require Internet and mail order sellers of electronic cigarettes to verify a person’s age and identity before they deliver their products to a buyer’s door.
The proposed legislation, aimed at reducing teen access to e-cigarettes, was announced at a news conference at Jonathan Law High School in Milford. Attending with DeLauro was Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale who is researching the potentially harmful effects of e-cigarettes.
Under the Stop Tobacco Sales to Youth Act, online and mail order sellers of cigarettes, roll-your-own, and smokeless tobacco are required to verify the age and identity of a purchaser before a sale. The sellers must also use delivery methods that verify the age and ID of the person accepting delivery. Customers must be 18 years old to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes.
DeLauro wants to amend the law to include sales of e-cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products. They are now exempt from age verification if delivered through the mail.
“Our country has made a choice. We do not want our kids to be buying tobacco products,” she said.
E-cigarette devices turn liquids that sometimes contain nicotine into vapor. While the rate of tobacco cigarette smoking has been on a steady decline in Connecticut, surveys show that the rate of e-cigarette smoking especially among middle and high schoolers is on a rapid rise. The 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed a 900 percent increase in teen use of e-cigarettes since 2011, DeLauro said, and other studies show as many as one in four Connecticut high school students have tried vaping.
Researchers are still gauging the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes, but they generally believe – contrary to conventional wisdom – that e-cigarettes are not safer than tobacco cigarettes.
Krishnan-Sarin was the senior author of a 2017 Yale study that showed high school students who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes in subsequent years. “If you start using nicotine at a young age, you are more likely to use nicotine when you are older,” she said. “We really need better prevention programs and education to prevent youth access to these products.”
Regulators are fighting a difficult battle to keep e-cigarette devices and liquid out of the hands of teens. The liquid comes in thousands of flavors, from mint to menthol, and banana to brownie batter. Students who attended the news conference with DeLauro and Krishnan-Sarin said the use of e-cigarettes is widespread among their friends. One student recounted a story from her friend who said taking a hit from her device was the first thing she thought of when she woke up.
Vape shops have opened across Connecticut, creating easy access for young people, but Krishnan-Sarin said her research shows that many teens get their products from online sources.
“Kids have access to cash and credit cards and can bypass the age verification requirements,” she said.
DeLauro has long championed legislation to make it more difficult for teens to access tobacco products and e-cigarettes. She has co-sponsored proposals to prohibit advertising and marketing e-cigarettes to children and acknowledges strong push-back from tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers.
“We’re going to pursue this legislation,” she said. “It’s a hard slog. The industry is a strong lobby, but we did it once and we will do it again.”