Salt Lake County may become the second county in Utah to regulate e-cigarettes, a strategy that could result in a confusing patchwork of policies for producers of the smokeless devices.
As a starting point, Salt Lake County Health Director Gary Edwards proposes following the regulatory lead of neighboring Davis County, which earlier this year imposed nicotine limits and labeling requirements. It prohibits claims that electronic cigarettes can help aid addicts in kicking their smoking habit.
But Salt Lake County may adopt stricter standards, depending on the results of a fact-finding study now underway, Edwards said Thursday at a health board meeting. County officials are testing random samples of locally produced e-cigarette cartridges to see if their nicotine levels are as advertised, Edwards said.
Large manufacturers, such as blu eCigs, owned by the tobacco company, Lorillard, claim to already adhere to most of the newly proposed federal regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a nicotine-laced liquid, or “juice,” to create a vapor that users inhale.
Proponents say “vaping” is safer than smoking because the vapor doesn’t contain the harmful levels of toxic chemicals found in smoke. Some users say the devices have helped them cut back on smoking, or quit nicotine altogether.
The FDA and many cancer doctors say that without more research, there’s no way of verifying these safety claims.
Studies have exposed quality-control problems, such as contaminants and higher-than-advertised levels of nicotine in e-cig juice. And addiction specialists fear makers of flavored liquid cartridges — such as “cotton candy” and “Atomic Fireball” — are targeting children.
Indeed, e-cigarettes have replaced traditional cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff as the tobacco product of choice for youth, according to surveys by the Utah Department of Health.
Utah law preempts local authorities from regulating tobacco products. But e-cigarette “juice” is not defined as tobacco under state law.
Legislation to bring e-cigarettes under state regulation failed to pass last winter after undergoing numerous revisions.
“They [the e-cigarette companies] fought my bill. What they got out of it was no preemption,” said its sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. “I’d like to see every county come up with a different policy, making it harder for big tobacco to come in and distribute.”
The Davis County regulation bans the sale of the liquid to anyone under the age of 19 — mirroring state tobacco law — and clarifies that youths cannot possess it.
It requires that product packaging have childproof caps, be tamper-evident and leakproof at the time of sale.
Products must be labeled to show nicotine content, which can’t exceed 3.6 percent by volume and can’t vary more than 10 percent from advertised levels. Smoking cessation products that claim to be nicotine-free can have no trace amounts of nicotine, under the rules.
“I’d like to see them required to include a lot number and date of manufacturing on the label, in case a product is recalled,” said Salt Lake County health board member Scott Brown, vice president of the American Heart Association of Utah’s stroke initiative.
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In April 2013, Davis County health officials randomly sampled e-cigarette cartridges from smoke shops that make their own product, testing their nicotine levels and looking for contaminants.
No harmful chemicals were found, but nicotine amounts in all of the samples were higher than advertised. Even “smoking cessation” cartridges labeled as nicotine-free had trace amounts.