California was set to become one of the many states regulating electronic cigarettes — until a few days ago, when a state senate bill that would have regulated e-cigarettes failed in committee. The failure was triggered by committee members making a change which resulted in the bill’s author abandoning it entirely.

The change that resulted in the bill failing was the addition of an amendment which declared e-cigarettes aren’t tobacco products. With this amendment, the California senator who’d carried the piece of legislation (Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco) declared that the legislation had been fundamentally undermined and neither he nor his sponsors believed in it any longer.

The collapse of the bill occurred on the same day as another bill which sought to increase the tobacco-purchasing age in California to age 21 also died. That bill didn’t get a vote as it was pulled ahead of a scheduled hearing.

E-cigarettes are booming in popularity around the world, with a dizzying array of US and UK e-cigarette products having come onto the market in just the last year alone. E-cigarettes work by heating flavored chemicals, including nicotine, into a vapor that users inhale.

The skyrocketing popularity has produced calls for regulation from public health advocates, and a number of US states already regulate the technology. The bill which would have seen California e-cigarette users have their devices regulated like tobacco was originally meant to classify the technology as a “tobacco product,” based on the fact that nicotine comes from tobacco plants.

The framer of the bill, Senator Leno, originally characterized the classification of e-cigarettes as “tobacco product” as a measure on his part to prevent “Big Tobacco” from marketing their “non-tobacco product” to children.

The bill however failed after the chairman of a key committee added an amendment which deleted the provision classifying e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. Only three members of the committee (all members of the Democratic Party) responded to Sen. Leno’s urgings to vote against the amendment — the committee ultimately accepted it.

Employees and owners of “vaping” businesses, which supply e-cigarette users, had filled up the hearing room to provide testimony against the bill. They argued the bill’s regulations would be onerous, blunting sales and dissuading people from quitting cigarettes. Many of them claimed to have been heavy traditional cigarette users — they argued traditional smokes were much more dangers — before switching to e-cigarettes let them quit.

The president of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, which represents some 170 businesses, claimed there are “key differences” between tobacco and vapor products, and the advocates of “vaping” at the hearing rejected having any connection to the traditional tobacco industry, even though the traditional tobacco companies have started investing increasing amounts of money in e-cigarettes.

While the tobacco companies might make e-cigarettes, “they do not represent this industry,” said the president of the American Vaping Association, who added the e-cigarette industry was “created by ex-smokers who use these products to quit.”

The committee which ended up killing the bill, the Governmental Organization Committee, is considered to be sympathetic to the interests of the tobacco industry.

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