Baltimore City Council members have introduced a package of legislation aimed at curbing smoking and vaping.
The three bills look to broaden the definition of smoking devices and ban the sale of flavored vaping liquids, as well as call for tobacco retailers to post information about smoking risks and cessation and carry nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum.
City legislators worked with the Baltimore City Health Department for most of the year to craft the bills.
“We tried to figure out what can we do locally that is going to have the most bang for the buck,” said D’Paul Nibber, the health department’s legislative affairs director.
That meant making tobacco harder to get, harder to use and easier to quit, he said.
“I firmly believe the solution is to take existing smokers and get them to really seriously think about quitting,” Nibber said. “We know the communities in Baltimore City that are hardest hit by tobacco — we’re talking about East Baltimore, West Baltimore, essentially the black butterfly, and it’s really stark.”
Councilman Leon F. Pinkett III said he hopes his bill, which would expand the definition of smoking devices and ban flavored vaping liquids, decreases smoking rates among young people with whom vape pens have become a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes.
“For many young people, they don’t even see it as smoking, they see it as a harmless activity,” Pinkett said. “They say, ‘Oh, no, I would never smoke,’ and really look scornfully on smoking. But if you mention vaping and mention the flavors there is an enticement and appeal associated with that activity.”
His bill, introduced Thursday, would ban vape pen liquid flavors, including fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, herbs and spices. It would also expand the definition of electronic smoking devices to include “any electronic or battery-operated product that contains or delivers nicotine or any other substance intended for human consumption” used for “inhaling vapor or aerosol from the product, whether manufactured, distributed, marketed or sold as an e-cigarette, e-cigar, e-pipe, e-hookah, or vape pen, or under any other product name or descriptor.”
Current law only identifies electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars and electronic pipes in the definition of electronic smoking devices — items also prohibited in areas with smoking bans.
Pinkett’s bill aligns with a current effort by the Food and Drug Administration to limit the sale of sweet e-cigarette flavors. The city legislation also looks to ensure facilities where liquids for vape pens and e-cigarettes are manufactured are sanitary.
“I think we have another opportunity maybe not to repeat some of the errors of the past and that’s why this piece of legislation is so critical to me,” Pinkett said.
The American Vaping Association, a nonprofit that advocates for what it calls sensible policy toward vaping products, opposes measures like this one.
"Passage of this ordinance will constitute a giant gift to Big Tobacco, which will be able to continue to sell deadly menthol cigarettes, all while not facing competition from smoke-free products that have been estimated by international experts as being at least 95 percent less hazardous than smoking,” said Gregory Conley, president of the association.
"According to the [Centers for Disease Control], vaping products are the most popular quit smoking tool on the U.S. market,” he said. “Shutting down small businesses that are dedicated to helping smokers switch will lead to more smoking and more death."
Two other bills filed in tandem with Pinkett’s would place additional requirements on stores that carry tobacco and other smoking products.
Councilman John Bullock sponsored legislation that would require shops that sell tobacco products to prominently display signs detailing health risks associated with tobacco, as well as information about quitting smoking.
“We just wanted to make sure that people have as much information as possible as it relates to the negative effects,” said Bullock, adding that he hopes such signage would decrease smoking rates.
Another bill, sponsored by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, would require stores that sell tobacco to also offer nicotine replacement therapy products. Burnett said his bill is aimed at creating access to smoking cessation products where they are not readily available, including in some of the predominantly black neighborhoods in his district.
“It’s been an issue that we’ve seen across Baltimore City — really disproportionately high rates of lung cancer and heart disease in the black community, much of which can be directly tied back to tobacco consumption,” Burnett said.
He said there are only four pharmacies in his West Baltimore’s Eighth District, which he represents, though there are plenty of corner stores and gas stations where people can buy tobacco products.
“We want to make nicotine replacement — whether it’s patches or gum — as accessible as possible for people, just as accessible as buying a cigarette,” Burnett said. “It’s not the silver bullet, but a step in the right direction to help people who want to get access.”
The Baltimore Sun’s Meredith Cohn contributed to this report.