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Open your eyes to the dangers of vaping, New Mexico

Sign posted near the entrance to a restroom at Rio Rancho High School.

Vaping in New Mexico is completely unregulated, and once again our state is the Wild West when it comes to a new industry.

We are parents, and strongly believe it is imperative to protect the health of our children, protect the public health of New Mexicans, eliminate bad actors and underground products.

We will reintroduce the Vaping Act to promote greater public health through smart regulations and responsible public policies. To date, no other state has enacted a comprehensive e-cigarette regulatory bill, and New Mexico could lead the way.

Recent knee-jerk policy responses to lung illnesses will not lead to a desired outcome. But a comprehensive regulatory framework can, and will. Most people reading recent stories don’t know the full range of facts behind the illnesses reported from e-cigarette usage.

That is, that the majority of the illnesses reported due to e-cigarette usage is directly linked to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), or illicit unregulated drug use, in vaping devices. On Oct. 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its findings on e-cigarette illnesses and hospitalizations.

The CDC noted that, of the confirmed lung injury cases associated with e-cigarette usage, 78 percent of patients “reported using THC-containing products, with or without nicotine-containing products.” Thirty-seven percent of the patients also reported “exclusive use of THC-containing products.”

And on Nov. 21, the CDC further announced “the latest national and state findings suggest THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers, are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”

Prohibition does not work.

One critically important fact is being ignored in the rush to respond to the reported illnesses. Since their introduction to the U.S. market in 2007, vaping devices have helped millions of Americans quit smoking. And a lot of those people, 10 million to 13 million, are using flavored products to help them quit, or limit, cigarette smoking.

“In the largest survey of American adult vapers, flavors were vital in helping smokers quit combustible cigarettes and remain abstinent from smoking.” The removal of products that have helped the vast majority of former smokers quit smoking cigarettes will have morbid impacts and only serves to drive those smokers back to combustible products, or cigarettes. This should be the most compelling argument for regulating e-cigarettes, not eliminating them.

Digging a little deeper, the vapor products mentioned above have been FDA-registered and FDA-regulated since 2016. No new legal vapor products have entered the market since 2016.

Of the vapor products on the market, some are completely nicotine-free. There are already strict FDA warning label requirements in place for all nicotine-containing e-cigarette products. So, what would the regulatory framework look like?

Since last December, our team has met with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, the N.M. Department of Health and N.M. Regulation and Licensing Department to discuss the depth of the regulatory framework.

Here’s how the proposed law would work

Our proposed Regulatory Act would establish a 21 years of age restriction for all purchases, licensing requirements for manufacturers, distributors and retail stores, an enforcement mechanism within the state’s Alcohol and Gaming Division, and strict marketing guidelines that would prohibit youth-targeted marketing.

Finally, during the 2018 legislative session, the Legislature enacted a point-of-sale tax on e-cigarettes. But without a comprehensive regulatory framework that includes licensing, it will be impossible to track sales and know who to tax.

The creation of a regulatory framework guarantees more gross receipts dollars for the state of New Mexico.

With the adoption of statewide regulations during the 2020 legislative session, New Mexico can lead the way in creating a comprehensive framework that would legitimize the vapor industry, serve to help combat youth usage, and create a clear avenue for revenue generation.

We encourage the public to comment on our legislation. It will be available on the New Mexico Legislative website once prefiled legislation is published.

(Sen. Gabriel Ramos, a Democrat from Silver City, has served since 2019 and can be contacted at gabriel.ramos@nmlegis.gov. Sen. Pat Ruiloba, a Democrat from Albuquerque who has served since 2015, may be contacted at patricio.ruiloba@nmlegis.gov.)

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