For the third year in a row, an effort to ban flavored vaping products in Connecticut couldn’t muster enough support.
“We’re incredibly frustrated that the legislature can’t seem to get their priorities in order in a way that would protect kids, the way all of Connecticut’s neighbors already have,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, northeast advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. They “continue to support industry and industry profits instead of protecting kids.”
The flavor ban had early momentum in the General Assembly. The Public Health Committee approved the measure in March after hearing hours of testimony.
A mother urged legislators to ban flavors after watching her 10-year-old son become hooked on vaping. Advocates warned of the dangers e-cigarettes pose. And many in the medical community, including the Connecticut Hospital Association, the Connecticut State Medical Society, the Central Connecticut Health District and the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, put their support behind the bill.
“We had an understanding with the governor to go after flavored vaping this year. I think there was real bipartisan consensus on the subject, and surrounding states have already taken this step,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a co-chair of the Public Health Committee who backed the proposal. “So it was very disappointing to once again be blocked.”
Connecticut is one of few states in the region that has not adopted a prohibition on flavored e-cigarettes. New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island have barred the sale of flavored vaping products. Massachusetts banned all flavored tobacco items, including flavored cigars, cigarettes and vaping goods.
The state has attempted a ban twice before. The proposal was raised in 2020 as part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget but was unsuccessful. Lamont had recommended banning flavored vaping products and increasing the tax on all e-cigarette liquids.
Last year, a bill barring the sale of flavored cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes was watered down and then shelved. A version of the plan was also added to the state budget implementer but was scrapped.
This year’s version only targeted the sale of flavored vaping products (not flavored cigarettes or cigars). But it still ran into opposition. E-cigarette makers, store owners and people who say that vaping is an important alternative for those who are quitting smoking testified against the bill.
In addition, some in the cessation community didn’t support the bill because they believed it didn’t go far enough. Officials with the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network asked the legislature to expand the proposal to include all flavored tobacco products.
When the measure reached the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, it was amended to eliminate an outright ban. Instead, the version passed by that committee would have limited for nearly three years which establishments could sell flavored vaping products.
Committee members said that under the new proposal, gas stations, convenience stores, package stores, supermarkets and other retailers would be prohibited from selling the products. Sales of flavored items would be limited to “adult-only tobacco” stores whose owners have a dealer registration and allow only those 21 and older to enter.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, a co-chair of the Finance Committee, said he was concerned about people who rely on vaping products in order to quit smoking cigarettes. He said he also worries that a ban would create a flourishing “underground” market for vaping products.
“Whenever you ban something, it gets more attractive,” Fonfara said. “And that’s the problem here: minors finding this attractive. Now, with a growing and more robust underground market, they’re going to get access to it.
“Right now, you can buy flavored vaping products in thousands and thousands of locations in Connecticut. … And that’s, to a large degree, how minors are getting this product. The [Finance Committee] proposal limits it to a fraction of that but still makes it available to adults.”
The nearly three-year timetable would have allowed the legislature to see what kind of effect limiting the sale of those items could have and adjust if necessary, he added.
With time running short in a 12-week session, the bill was not called for a vote in either chamber. Supporters are vowing to revisit the proposal again next year.
In the meantime, proponents might lobby to get the products banned at the local level, O’Flaherty said. Advocates had luck raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 by starting those efforts in cities and towns. The legislature later increased the age statewide.
“Connecticut’s kids need to be protected from these products, just like our neighbors have,” O’Flaherty said. “We can’t not keep coming back and trying to trying to get these protections in place for them. We’re going to keep pushing on this.”