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The KUNM news team's coverage of the 2020 legislative session and its impacts

Tobacco Bill Would Regulate E-Cigarettes Amid Vaping-Related Injury Concerns

Roland Mey

New Mexico high schoolers are more than twice as likely to vape nicotine than use traditional tobacco products, according to the state’s Department of Health. A bill moving through the state Legislature that would license tobacco in the state for the first time would also regulate e-cigarettes. 

Vaping is linked to a national outbreak of lung injury. When 24 cases showed up in New Mexico over the last six months, Aryan Showers, Policy Director at the state’s Department of Health, says the agency needed to know more. “We definitely needed to regulate these products and understand who was selling them, what was actually inside of these cartridges, [and] whether or not the products being sold were in childproof packaging, or tampered with, or contraband," Showers said. 

The Tobacco Products Act would make that information accessible by licensing anyone who manufactures, distributes, and sells tobacco and nicotine products in the state. 

It would also raise the minimum purchasing age to 21, mirroring the new federal law, and allow the state to enforce it. 

Currently, a minor who smokes or vapes can face fines or community service. But Showers says criminalization is ineffective as a prevention strategy, so this bill would remove all criminal penalties for youth.  Instead, it would focus on penalizing licensed retailers who sell to people under 21. 

Several stakeholder agencies, including the Department of Health, Department of Public Safetyand the Regulation and Licensing Department, collaborated on the bill, says Showers, so if it passes it could be implemented quickly. 

Senate Bill 131 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Feb. 11. A companion bill in the House is expected to be heard by the House Taxation and Revenue Committee that same day. 

This story is part of the project: Your N.M. Government. Funding for our legislative coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the New Mexico Local News Fund and KUNM listeners like you.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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