Boston Board of Health approves regulating e-cigarettes

2011 12-1 Boston Board of Health approves regulating e-cigarettes
Restricts low-cost, single cigars sales to minors

Seeking to close a loophole on unregulated products like electronic cigarettes that deliver nicotine, the Boston Public Health Commission’s Board of Health today approved a proposal to treat e-cigarettes like tobacco products, including requiring retail establishments to obtain a permit to sell them, prohibiting their use in the workplace, and restricting their sale to adults only.

The board also approved prohibiting the sale of low-cost, single-sale cigars that have become an attractive option for price-conscious youth looking for less expensive alternatives to cigarettes, and doubling the fines for retailers that sell tobacco products to anyone under age 18 and violate other tobacco control regulations.

“Tobacco exposure continues to be a significant factor that contributes to preventable sickness and death,’’ said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “The steps the board has taken today will help reduce young people’s exposure to tobacco and unregulated nicotine products and eliminate exposure to e-cigarette vapors containing nicotine and other known toxins in the workplace.’’

Under the new regulations, retailers must apply for a permit through the Boston Public Health Commission’s Tobacco Control office to sell any nicotine product that is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a nicotine replacement therapy. E-cigarettes are made of plastic and metal and heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable cartridge to create vapor that the smoker inhales. The FDA found through laboratory testing that e-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals and carcinogens. Currently, it is legal to sell e-cigarettes to children.

A handful of convenience stores in Boston sell e-cigarettes, according to a survey conducted by the Northeastern University School of Law Public Health Legal Clinic, which also found more stores interested in selling them. The new regulations require that e-cigarettes be placed behind the store counter, like tobacco products, and that they not be sold to minors. E-cigarettes also will not be allowed in the workplace, which includes restaurant patios and decks, and loading docks.

As for cigars, the board approved a requirement that they be sold in their original manufacturer packaging of at least four, which is intended to combat single-sales marketing to youth and discourage their initiation into cigarette smoking. In addition, fines for retailers found in violation of the city’s tobacco control regulations will double – from $100 for the first offense and $400 for the fourth offense in 12 months to $200 for the first offense and $800 for the fourth offense in 24 months.

During the course of a 60-day public comment period and a public hearing, the Board of Health received 296 comments supporting the e-cigarettes restrictions and 596 favoring the cigar packaging change, compared to 34 comments opposing the e-cigarette restrictions and 18 opposing the cigar packaging change.

E-cigarette opponents argued that the product should not be restricted because e-cigarette vapors are not harmful. Proponents argued that e-cigarette solution is known to contain nicotine and a number of toxic chemicals and carcinogens, and that the safety of e-cigarette vapors has not been established by the FDA. Opposition to the cigar packaging regulation mostly came from cigar industry representatives who cited the economic impact; proponents, however, argue that the measure was a reasonable step that could discourage youths from using tobacco products.

The e-cigarette restrictions will take effect immediately; the new cigar packaging regulation goes into effect in 60 days, on January 31, 2012.