Prevention can be a tough sell in the Legislature.

Confronted by many demands to resolve crises and tend to emergencies, lawmakers are reluctant to act to stop future harm.

Fortunately, Montana lawmakers looked ahead to the health and safety of our children when they gave overwhelming approval to banning e-cigarette sales and possession for people under age 18.

Attorney General Tim Fox proposed Senate Bill 66, which was sponsored by Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula. Gov. Steve Bullock signed it into law last week.

Fox summed up the case succinctly in a statement last week: “E-cigarettes can be just as dangerous and addictive as traditional cigarettes, yet right now it is perfectly legal to sell them to minors in Montana.”

The new law takes affect Jan. 1 by making a simple change: It adds e-cigarettes to the Montana law prohibiting youth access to tobacco products.

That makes sense. Like tobacco products, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, a highly addictive substance. About two-thirds of the nearly 1,700 Montana vendors selling tobacco products also sell e-cigarettes, according to Fox’s office.

The Montana law requires electronic smoking device sellers to purchase an annual $5 license, but it doesn’t impose a tax on sales. The law specifically exempts smoking cessation products, and it doesn’t apply to sales or possession by people 18 and older.

It’s telling that the lawmakers who spent the most time learning about SB66 were unanimous in their support. The bill passed out of Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee 10-0, and won approval from House Health and Human Services Committee 17-0.

When the Senate committee held a hearing, proponents included representatives of the Montana Medical Association, Billings Clinic, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and other health organizations. The opponents included representatives of vape stores.

The market for e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes, e-hookahs, vape pens and cartridges containing the liquid nicotine has grown rapidly. The number of high school students who tried e-cigarettes tripled in one year — to more than 13 percent, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported recently.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the decline in student use of most tobacco products was more than offset by the growth in nicotine-laden e-cigarettes and hookahs. Frieden told the Associated Press that e-cigarettes are a new way of introducing kids to nicotine — and potentially hooking them on tobacco products in the future.

Forty-two states already restrict children from buying and using electronic smoking devices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. On April 9, the governor of North Dakota signed a bill banning electronic smoking devices for people under 18. The ban was added to the state’s indoor clean air act.

As of July 1, Wyoming will prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors, and it will require child-resistant packaging for the liquids sold to be heated in those electronic devices. Several other states have such packaging requirements. Poison control centers nationwide have reported astronomical increases in reports of children and adults swallowing the e-liquids and becoming ill.

South Dakota, Utah, Idaho and Washington already outlaw electronic smoking device sales to minors. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that Oregon has banned all sales of e-cigarettes pending FDA approval of the devices.

After the bill signing, Fox noted that “some retailers in Montana already do the right thing and won’t sell e-cigarettes to minors, but in many communities they are still readily available to children

in stores.”

“E-cigarettes are often marketed to kids as harmless and the number of high school students who have tried e-cigarettes has tripled in one year,” Sands said. “Our bill sends a strong message that nicotine is harmful in any form and our kids should not be smoking cigarettes nor ‘vaping’ nicotine in an e-cigarette.”

We agree. The governor and lawmakers made a healthy decision.

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