A proposal to confine the sale of flavored tobacco products to certain retailers was heard Monday in the state House Business and Labor Committee.
Only retailers that do not admit minors and take 90 percent of their revenue from tobacco would be allowed to sell flavored tobacco products if House Bill 312, carried by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, passes. The bill also would allow only cigarettes in tobacco vending machines and forbid tobacco sales from self-service displays other than vending machines.
The bill defines a self-service display as any that allows access to a tobacco product, including vaping and noncombustible products, without employee assistance.
“It’s tough enough to be a happy, healthy teenager these days, let alone having to fend off easy-access tobacco products including e-cigarettes or vapes,” said Dunwell, who testified in favor of a similar law before the Helena City Commission this past fall. “And I’m sure you would agree with me that we legislators play an important role in the public health of young people.”
The state Office of Public Instruction’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 22.5 percent of Montana high school students surveyed used a vaping device in the past 30 days.
The bill claims 67 percent support from Montanans for a law forbidding flavored tobacco sales in stores that admit minors. Nicole Aune of the state Department of Health and Human Services said that figure came from a survey entered into the state Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System “three or four years ago.”
The DPHHS, the Montana Primary Care Association, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network were among those who stood behind the bill.
“As a state, we need to do everything we can to protect children from the temptation to use tobacco products, helping them to go on to lead the healthiest lives possible,” said Morgan Smith of the Montana Federation of Public Employees.
The Montana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, the Montana Retail Association and business owners from around the state rose in strong opposition. Common arguments included the ability of vaping to help adult smokers quit and that existing guidelines for preventing sales to minors are strictly enforced.
“Those of us in convenience stores are really part of the solution to preventing youth access and not the problem,” said Earl Allen, marketing manager for Missoula-based Noon’s gas stations.
Opponents noted a 2016 study from the Royal College of Physicians that found inhalation of e-cigarette vapor “unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco” long term.
The state House Judiciary Committee last week heard House Bill 266, carried by Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, which would apply the same sentence for giving alcohol to minors to those giving tobacco to minors.
And two weeks ago, the state House Taxation Committee tabled a proposed 50 percent tax on vaping products.