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Vaping drama in Sacramento

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NOTE: This article was originally reported by POLITICO California Pro reporters exclusively for POLITICO California Pro subscribers.

Hill says his vaping bill was 'hijacked' by assemblyman

BY ANGELA HART  |  07/03/2019 06:47 PM EDT

SACRAMENTO — Sen. Jerry Hill said Wednesday that his vaping bill had been "hijacked" this week by Assemblyman Adam Gray, whom Hill alleges has regularly sided with e-cigarette manufacturers.

As chairman of the powerful Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, Gray denied public hearings to a series of vaping bills right before the May policy committee deadline. He said he wanted to come back with an alternative package specifically aimed at youth vaping and tobacco use instead of a wider legislative attack on flavored e-cigarettes.

Gray (D-Merced) released that plan Tuesday and touted one of Hill's vaping bills as part of a broader package designed to curb youth tobacco use. Hill (D-San Mateo) said Wednesday that he's never been associated with Gray on the issue.

"The bill was hijacked to go into a package of bills ... that appears to be a solution, but in reality is an industry-sponsored plan that doesn't help to alleviate the epidemic of youth vaping," Hill told POLITICO in an interview. "I was not consulted, nor do I approve."

Hill's proposal, CA SB39 (19R), would require e-cigarette manufacturers and distributors to deliver tobacco products ordered online in "conspicuously marked containers" and a person at least 21 years of age to sign for the order.

Tobacco and vaping interests successfully blocked a separate Hill proposal, CA SB38 (19R), that would have banned brick-and-mortar sales of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Hill withdrew that bill in May, citing "hostile amendments" forced upon him.

By touting Hill's surviving vaping bill in a press release Tuesday, Gray appeared to suggest Hill supports the new alternative vaping legislation, CA AB1639 (19R). In a statement to POLITICO Wednesday, Gray said he included SB 39 because he supports the bill and believes it adds heft to his overall efforts.

“Earlier this year, I asked all authors with bills related to e-cigarettes to agree to engage in a working group process in order to develop a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach to combat the rise of youth vaping," Gray said. "Each member brought their own set of priorities to the table, and over the course of this legislative year we negotiated what is unquestionably the strongest anti-youth vaping policy in the country.

"Not everyone got everything they wanted, and no member that participated in the working group is obligated to support the final product," Gray said. "The contents of SB 39 make the committee’s efforts better."

Gray's AB 1639 appears to incorporate language put forward by the Vapor Technology Association, an industry trade group representing vaping interests in Sacramento, based on an association letter that Hill released Wednesday. The memo labeled the proposals the "flavored tobacco ban alternative."

The Vapor Technology Association letter included measures to increase penalties, crack down on underage youth found with tobacco products and tighten restrictions on advertising and packaging that can entice teens. AB 1639 includes those approaches, but also has some provisions that weren't in the alternative vaping proposal, including a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores until 2022.

The vaping association did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on how it crafted the proposal it put forward to lawmakers.

Hill said Gray's bill does not go far enough. While he may support some components, Hill said he cannot support anything short of a ban on flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes. San Francisco this week became the first city in the nation to adopt such a ban.

Hill took particular issue with a component in the bill that exempts menthol and mint flavors from the temporary ban.

"None of it gets to the heart of the problem, which is flavored tobacco and the epidemic use," Hill said. "That's the only thing that works, and if you look as an example at Juul, the one flavor that is the best-selling flavor to youth is menthol and mint."

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