Lawmakers, citizens discuss banning e-cigarettes for minors

By: 

News Reporter
Kyle lawmakers passed an ordinance June 2014 prohibiting businesses from selling e-cigarettes to minors. A statewide law may follow suit.

A Texas lawmaker has introduced a bill to prevent minors from using and obtaining e-cigarettes.

House Bill 647, filed by State Representative Jason Isaac days before the commencement of the 84th Legislative Session, would update current law to include e-cigarettes in the same category as traditional cigarettes. The bill would make it illegal for minors across the state to possess e-cigarettes.

Isaac learned of the issue from a group of outspoken high school students from Kyle who noticed growing e-cigarette use on campuses. Similar bans previously enacted by local Texas governments and consolidated independent school districts served as a model for HB 647.

The bill is expected to receive bipartisan support.

Texas is included in a shrinking group of 10 states and the District of Columbia that have not passed state laws making the sale of e-cigarettes to minors illegal, according to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) press release. More than 16 million children can currently purchase and use e-cigarettes legally, according to the press release.

A recent study may demonstrate a link between the use of e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes for minors.

A National Youth Tobacco survey found the percentage of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, rising from 4.7 percent to 10.0 percent. The study showed 76.3 percent of students polled who used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days also smoked traditional cigarettes in the same period.

The absence of a statewide ban has forced some local governments, school districts and schools to create their own regulations in an effort to keep e-cigarettes away from minors.

Students at Hays County Independent School District’s Lehman High School found in possession of an e-cigarette face a disciplinary referral, said Tracy Holly, assistant principal secretary at Lehman High School.

Hays CISD has taken its own initiatives to prevent the use of e-cigarettes by students.

The 2014-2015 Hays CISD Parent-Student Handbook prohibits the use and possession of e-cigarettes and “personal vaping devices” while on campus or at school-related activities.

Kyle passed an ordinance in June 2014 preventing businesses and individuals from giving, distributing, selling, marketing or offering e-cigarettes to minors, said Jerry Hendrix, director of communications for the City of Kyle.

San Marcos officials have yet to create a similar ban, said Kristi Wyatt, director of communications and intergovernmental relations for San Marcos.

“At this point we do not have any city ordinance that restricts the use of e-cigarettes by minors,” Wyatt said. “The only ordinance that we have that references e-cigarettes is our smoking ordinance, and that restricts where you can smoke.”

The decision to sell to juveniles is up to store owners, said Ray Santerelli and Sharon Teal, co-owners of the San Marcos-based e-cigarette and vaping shop Ahh Vapors.

“I wouldn’t want my kids smoking cigarettes or vaping,” Santerelli said. “Vaping is a lot safer. It doesn’t have the carcinogens that cigarettes have, but I just wouldn’t want my kids to do it under the age of 18.”

Santerelli and Teal check the ID of every person who enters the store and refuse admittance of minors.

The co-owners support prohibitive legislation at city and state levels and do not believe such a measure would hurt their business.

“I don’t think we’ve had anybody under the age of 18 try to buy (e-cigarettes)," Teal said.

Santerelli and Teal think e-cigarette and vape shops have an unwarranted bad reputation.

“We have helped a lot of people quit smoking,” Santerelli said.

Santerelli has witnessed heavy smokers control their addictions by slowly lowering the nicotine potency of their e-cigarettes. Some former smokers eventually reach a point when they are satisfied to vape without any nicotine in their e-cigarettes, he said.

“One example is right here,” Santerelli said, nodding at Teal, who was able to quit smoking cigarettes with the help of e-cigarettes.