(The Center Square) – As concern grows over the popularity of flavored tobacco products, state lawmakers want to act.
House Bill 1161 would expand upon existing federal restrictions and prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state, including flavors for vaping, in hopes of preventing adolescents from picking up the smoking habit – and developing the negative health effects that go with it.
In a memo, the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-Whitehall, said flavored tobacco products have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among teenagers and young adults, because cigarettes and cigars use flavors such as menthol or fruit.
She says that while some studies conclude vaping is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, it gives the user a false sense of safety. It is still unhealthy and has been linked to a recent outbreak of lung-related deaths and injuries.
The bill would prohibit tobacco retailers from selling flavored tobacco products, vaping products, or product flavor enhancers, punishable by a fine of $250 for each violation.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned cigarettes with characterizing flavors other than menthol. They say this resulted in a significant reduction of cigarette use among young people.
That ban did not apply to other tobacco products such as cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah, or vaping products. However, the FDA is currently in the process of finalizing a rule that would also prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
The agency says flavors in tobacco products make them more popular and easier to use by youth and young adults, and the proposed product standards will reduce the appeal – decreasing the likelihood of experimentation, development of nicotine dependence, and progression to regular use.
The FDA says prohibiting menthol cigarettes will save up to 654,000 lives within 40 years. Within the same time frame, they estimate the policy will reduce smoking by 15%.
According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, as of February, Pennsylvania would join at least 10 other states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington – in introducing similar legislation.
The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and scheduled for discussion on Wednesday. During the meeting, however, committee chair Rep. Tim Briggs, D-King of Prussia, said the proposal needs further work and set it aside until meetings with stakeholders and McNeill could be scheduled.