SANTA FE – Electronic cigarettes are drawing the attention of New Mexico lawmakers and could face new regulations during the upcoming 30-day legislative session.
One proposal that will be discussed, and possibly endorsed, this week by an interim legislative panel would ban the sale of so-called “e-cigarettes” to New Mexicans under the age of 18.
“We don’t know everything about them, but we know we don’t want them in the hands of children,” said Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, D-Albuquerque, the co-chair of the interim Tobacco Settlement Revenue Oversight Committee.
A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said she would consider adding the issue to lawmakers’ 2014 agenda. The governor has the authority to decide what nonbudgetary topics should be considered by the Legislature during even-numbered years.
“The governor doesn’t believe that children should use or have access to tobacco or nicotine,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said Monday. “We’re certainly willing to explore options around that issue.”
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that allow a vaporized liquid – that often is flavored and includes nicotine – to be inhaled by the user. They are touted by advocates as a safer and cheaper alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Twenty-seven states already have enacted laws banning their sale to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states have also prohibited using e-cigarettes indoors or in public places.
In New Mexico, no such restrictions have been put in place on e-cigarettes, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.
With no state laws on the books, the Santa Fe City Council is also considering an ordinance that would make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes, or similar products, to minors.
One Santa Fe vendor of electronic cigarettes has said he thinks that would be a good idea, though he told the Journal such a law should distinguish between nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and those without nicotine.
At the state level, Sen. John Ryan, an Albuquerque Republican, plans to sponsor the bill to bar the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, the other co-chair of the interim tobacco committee, said Monday that other measures dealing with electronic cigarettes should be considered by the Legislature.
One option could be to levy a tax on the product, he said. Traditional tobacco cigarettes are currently taxed in New Mexico at a rate of $1.66 per pack.
“Nicotine has been determined to be a drug that is addictive,” McSorley said. “We’re going to have medical issues surrounding the use of this.”
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue new guidelines soon on electronic cigarettes, there is debate about how safe they are. A previous USDA analysis turned up carcinogens and toxic chemicals in exhaled e-cigarette vapor.