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Poll shows most want ‘Big Vape’ regulated

Good ideas often start locally. Almost two decades before a statewide clean indoor air law was enacted, Albuquerque implemented smoke-free air policies to protect its residents from secondhand smoke.

A legislative proposal backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will once again allow cities and counties to be on the forefront of combating yet another dangerous epidemic that has afflicted our children – e-cigarette use, also known as vaping.

Senate Bill 131 empowers cities and counties to regulate sales of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in their communities and authorizes local law enforcement agencies to conduct compliance checks against sales of tobacco products to minors. The governor’s proposal will allow local municipalities to establish common-sense guidelines that restrict the sale of e-cigarettes near schools, skateparks, community pools and other areas where children are present. Local governments can also restrict e-cigarette advertisements aimed at our children. This proposal doesn’t allow local municipalities to shut down existing tobacco and e-cigarette stores or ban new tobacco stores.

The e-cigarette epidemic is a public health crisis that has spread to every high and middle school in the state. One in four of N.M. high school students and one in 14 middle school students are reportedly using e-cigarettes that often contain high levels of nicotine, according to the 2017 Youth, Risk and Resiliency Survey by N.M.’s Department of Health.

“Big Vape,” through aggressive marketing to minors, has addicted a new generation to nicotine and it continues to do so unabated. These companies have caused enormous damage to the health of our youth that will be felt for years.

We need everyone’s involvement to address this epidemic. We need the leadership of the Legislature, state agencies and most importantly local municipalities to collectively tackle this crisis. Local governments … should be able to pass laws proven to promote good health, well-being and equity; New Mexicans agree.

An American Heart Association-commissioned public opinion poll found 63 percent of registered N.M. voters support communities being able to regulate tobacco in their jurisdiction. The recent poll was conducted by Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling Inc.

We want everyone to benefit from smart and effective policies. But when the state blocks local governments from passing laws, it can hurt communities most where the need is greatest.

Senate Bill 131 – sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, Sen. Gabriel Ramos, D-Silver City, Rep. Elizabeth Thompson, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces – requires all tobacco retailers, distributors and manufacturers to be licensed and holds retailers accountable for selling to minors by establishing fair and graduated penalties. New Mexico is one of only 13 states not requiring a retailer license to sell tobacco products.

The proposal also addresses inequities with the current system in which criminal penalties are levied against kids and store clerks, while store owners go scot-free. And it raises the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products to 21 in compliance with the federal law. The intent is to protect, not punish.

The American Heart Association commends the governor and senators for their strong leadership on this issue, especially for trusting local municipalities to do what is best for their communities to address the cigarette/vaping epidemic among our children.

Dr. Robert Taylor is president of the American Heart Association’s Board of Directors.

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