Anti-smoking groups come out against state bills on e-cigarettes

By: - March 30, 2021 11:21 am
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A group of public health organizations joined together on Tuesday to oppose state legislation they say would strip local governments’ ability to regulate vaping.

E-cigarettes are the new frontier in the public policy battle over tobacco use. The legislation in question is sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore.

In a joint statement, groups led by the American Cancer Society outlined their opposition to the bills. The coalition includes the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, Tobacco-free Tennessee, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and NashvilleHealth, the collaborative group founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

The anti-smoking groups said the legislation seems promising at first glance, since it seeks to add e-cigarettes to the state’s existing Non-Smokers Protection Act.

But the coalition opposes the bill because it precludes passing any state laws to related to e-cigarettes after June, 2021 and bars local governments from imposing their own regulations or increasing taxes on e-cigarettes.

Currently, regulation of vaping is not explicitly included in the existing Non-Smokers Protection Act since e-cigarettes were not popular when the law was last updated, so it creates a murky gray area. The tobacco industry supports the legislation.

“Communities would have zero local control over passing laws to protect youth from a potential lifetime addiction to tobacco,” the groups said in the joint press release on Tuesday. “Local governments have the right to do what they think is best to protect their citizens.”

The e-cigarette legislation is one of two notable bills under the close watch of anti-smoking groups.

The other is legislation to remove the preemption clause that blocks local governments from regulating smoking in establishments with age restrictions, like bars and music venues. That effort has been led largely by a group of professional musicians called the Musicians for Smokefree Tennessee.

The 5 Spot, Nashville
The 5 Spot, Nashville

Because of the preemption, Metro and other local governments can’t block age-restricted venues from allowing smoking, and about 15 clubs and bars still do in Davidson County alone. The bill’s sponsors are Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin.

Since the musicians group began organizing last year to ban smoking, several venues and bars, have changed their policies and instituted bans on their own. The popular 5 Spot in East Nashville banned smoking not long before the organizing effort began and has supported the cause.

The bill was scheduled to be considered in committee today, but will be deferred until next week.

“We feel like giving local communities in Tennessee the ability to eliminate smoking in bars and music venues is a great and crucial first step in creating smoke-free workplaces for us musicians,” Nashville singer-songwriter Jamie Kent said. “That way if there is a strong demand in a certain place, a solution can be found. Right now, the discussion can’t even take place because of preemption.”

The Tennessee Lookout has reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health regarding its opinion on the e-cigarette legislation.

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Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan.