Linn supervisors consider nicotine regulation

By Steve Gravelle/SourceMedia Group News SourceMedia Group

The Ariva tablet is “the future of tobacco,” according to its maker. A proposal in Linn County to regulate the sale of the dissolvable product may be the future of public-health efforts to restrict access to nicotine.

“These products are popping up  more and more,” said Jill Roeder, Linn County Public Health healthy behaviors branch manager. “This is just to set the stage so when they come our kids can’t buy them.”

At least one retailer doesn’t care to be caught up by the new rules.

“I’m just confused on why I need a permit to sell tobacco when I never have and never will sell tobacco,” said Jake Barnes, Marion, owner of the Electracigz kiosk at Lindale Mall. “It just concerns me.”

The agenda for this morning’s county board work session includes the second reading of a proposed ordinance to require a tobacco sales permit for “the sale of nicotine delivery systems and unregulated products containing nicotine.”

Last August, supervisors voted down an outright ban on dissolvable tobacco products. The new measure, which received supervisors’ unanimous support in its first reading last week, would be the county’s first under a 2009 federal law that extended local regulation to new products that contain nicotine but not tobacco.

“A lot of the product you’re seeing come onto the market is nicotine derived in laboratories, so they don’t fall under the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) definition of tobacco,” said Roeder.

If the proposal passes, retailers will be required to take out a tobacco license to sell any product containing nicotine. The state sets the annual license fee based on population: they’re $100 in cities of more than 15,000 population, $75 in smaller cities. Counties set the fee for businesses in unincorporated rural areas – in Linn County it’s $50.

The measure would also ban the sale of nicotine products, including the “ecigarette” devices sold by Barnes, to minors under 18. Barnes says he hasn’t, and wouldn’t, sell to minors.

Availability of traditional tobacco products wouldn’t change, and the the measure doesn’t affect smoking-cessation products – gum and patches – now regulated by the FDA.

The 2009 law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, came after a campaign by public health officials and activists to extend tobacco restrictions to cover the new smokeless products.

“The marketplace has unfortunately advanced beyond the laws,” said Peggy Huppert, Iowa director of government relations for the American Cancer Society. “Smokeless tobacco is the next frontier for the tobacco companies.”

In 2002 the attorneys general of 40 states, including Iowa, petitioned the FDA seeking regulations on the new products. The petition specifically targeted Ariva, which appeared in test markets the previous year.

The law, which also mandated new warnings on cigarette packs and other tobacco products, didn’t federally regulate the new products but gives local governments the authority to regulate their sale.

Aaron Swanson, interim director of the state Department of Public Health’s Division of Tobacco Use, Prevention, and Control, said he’s not aware of any other Iowa counties that have used their new authority.

The new products are sometimes sold as ways to quit smoking, but haven’t been clinically proven for that purpose.

“There’s yet to be a lot of research done as to the long term health effects of these products,” said Swanson. “They’re not FDA-approved for the purpose of quitting tobacco.”

“They promote them as ways to stop smoking, but if you look at their marketing it’s ‘here’s something you can use when you can’t smoke,’”  said Huppert.

That’s case with Star Scientific, the small Virgina company that makes Ariva. Actors in an Ariva promotional video tout the dissolvable taplets, which resemble TicTacs gum, as “for when you can’t smoke…a new way to enjoy real tobacco satisfaction and pleasure anytime, anywhere.”

But Barnes, 25, who started his business last September, said most of his customers use their Electracigz to quit smoking.

“Our goal is to have people quit smoking altogether,” he said.

An Electracig includes a simulated cigarette tube with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and a detachable atomizer in the “filter” that may contain nicotine. A sensor detects the rush of air when a user inhales and activates a tiny coil that heats a vapor that carries the flavor and nicotine, and a red LED in the tip simulates a cigarette’s ash.

Electracigz retail for $10 for a disposable version to $109 for the regular model. Atomizers are five for $20 – heavier smokers use them up more quickly.

The user can select a range of nicotine levels, or no nicotine at all. That allows a smoker to taper off their nicotine dependency, said Barnes, who works with his customers to develop their smoking-cessation plan.

“It’s not a magic pill, it’s not going to make you quit the next day,” he said, but he’s had customers who have used Electracigz to quit smoking. “At the end of the day, people are using this to quit smoking cigarettes.”

Supervisors meet at 9 a.m. today at Linn County West in Westdale Mall. If the proposed ordinance passes its second reading, the third and final consideration could come at the 10 a.m. formal session Wednesday

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