Nearly two years after a respiratory illness linked to vape cartridges killed two Oregonians, the Oregon House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban online sales of vapes.
It's an effort to keep vaping pens out of the hands of minors, who have increasingly gravitated toward vapes because they're discreet, smokeless and come in fruity flavors.
In 2018, Oregon raised the minimum purchasing age for e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, but that's done little to curb tween and teen access to vapes, which are easily found online by plugging just a few key words into a search engine.
Snapchat and Instagram have also become viable and discreet platforms for vape sales to kids below the legal age of purchase, lawmakers say.
In 2019, the two deaths from a mysterious respiratory illness—which some experts traced to additives in the oil cartridges that fill vaping pens—were deemed a crisis by state officials, although the COVID-19 pandemic largely drowned out the alarm.
Late in 2019, the Oregon Health Authority reported that 1 in 4 Oregon high schoolers had tried vaping in the previous 30 days, and the practice had increased by 80% since 2017, in inverse relationship to the decrease in cigarette use among youth.
That means kids, though they're smoking fewer cigarettes, have replaced that habit fourfold with vapes.
Online retailers of vapes are getting increasingly savvy and exploiting flimsy age-vetting processes online, a loophole that's become a major concern for parents.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer for the Oregon Health Authority, noted in testimony on the bill that vape sales on social media platforms are often promoted by "influencers" who use the pandemic to encourage online sales that are socially distanced.
"These products are bought online and are mixed or further modified by end users. Research has shown that these modifications and lack of product regulation can produce dangerous circumstances," Sidelinger said.
Not everyone agreed. In written testimony to the House, Tim Andrew of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative advocacy group whose mission is to lower taxes across the country, said the bill would reduce access to "lifesaving products."
Andrews wrote the bill would "particularly harm smokers trying to quit who reside in rural and remote areas of the state," Andrews wrote. "If enacted, these persons, often in lower socioeconomic demographics and at the highest risk of smoking-related mortality, would have no choice but to continue smoking—and dying from—combustible tobacco."
The bill now advances to the Oregon Senate.