Texas state lawmakers discuss new vaping, e-cigarette restrictions

It was the first meeting of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee since health incidents linked to vaping began to emerge.

"How are we starting to tell people this is a health crisis and you need to wrestle with that,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham).

The committee was told the use of e-cigarettes is growing despite people getting sick.

"So without a serious response the crisis in Texas I believe will only grow more severe,” said Dr. Steven Kelder with the University of Texas School of Public Health

New programs to combat the problem were discussed, like the one Texas State student Kellen Kruk promotes.

"I always try to remind them it’s not safer. You can jump off a 100-story building and a 30-story building and the result is the same,” said Kruk. 

Eric Mullens, a high school principal from Hempstead, testified they created a successful anti-vaping initiative, but he warned students still get hooked.

"No one seems to know what the ingredients are, it’s like giving a kid a smoothie, and saying drink this, you don’t know what’s in it. So of use be truthful and be honest what’s in the devices and also talk about the effects it could have,” said Mullens.

A pocketbook campaign was also suggested.

"We've got to look at increasing the excise taxes, it is shown over again youth are the most price-sensitive to everything,” said Dr. Jay Maddock with the Texas A&M Department of Environmental & Occupational Health.

Representatives from the vaping industry were at the hearing. There is agreement banning sales to minors, but a total ban, according to Create a Cig owner Justin Suriff, could simply end up helping the black market linked to several of the lung illness cases.

"I might say we can get parents to regulate, when does it come to fining children or under-aged people that are vaping, or the parents if they are under 18, fining them, requiring parents to be parents,” said Suriff.

Schell Hammel with Smoke Free Alternative Trade Association suggested the solution would be a simple one. 

"The FDA data is showing the majority of these individuals, youth individuals are getting these form convenience stores and general stores, therefore we could make a huge impact, overnight, by just moving these flavored products into 21-and-over shops,” said Hammel.

Enforcement, however, is a problem. The committee was told that retailers who sell e-cigarettes only need a sales tax permit from the state comptroller. State Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) questioned Joshua Thigpen with the Comptroller's Tobacco Tax Office about the enforcement gap.

“No such thing for vape? Which makes it difficult for you to identify which shops are selling vapes to minors, correct?” asked Johnson.

Thigpen, in agreeing with Johnson’s assessment, also told the committee that enforcement officers typically have to do an internet word search to help locate retailers selling vaping products. The possibility of adding more compliance officers or giving additional authority to TABC was discussed as a way to beef up enforcement.