Assembly Holds Joint Informational Hearing on Vaping Tobacco and Cannabis Products

On Wednesday, the Assembly Health, Governmental Organization, Business and Professions Committees convened a joint informational hearing titled, “Vaping Tobacco and Cannabis Products: Health Effects and Deficiencies in Regulation and Current Law.” The nearly four-hour hearing was convened amid increasing youth and young adult use of vaping products, ongoing reports of vaping-related illnesses and injuries nationwide, and recent actions at the federal and state levels. Wednesday’s hearing was the first of two hearings that will examine the issues related to tobacco and cannabis vaping, including the health effects and regulatory landscape, featuring expert testimony from medical providers, tobacco and vaping experts, and state government regulators.

The hearing was opened by Assembly Governmental Organization Committee Chair Adam Gray who provided an overview of the current statistics related to vaping, including that vaping has increased from approximately seven million users worldwide in 2012 to over 30 million users worldwide today. Gray referenced the dramatic increase in vaping among youth and young adults, largely fueled by the wide variety of flavored vaping products that have been made available on the market, as well as the number of legislative measures aiming to ensure greater health and safety that were ultimately unsuccessful in passing the Legislature.

Assembly Business and Professions Committee Chair Evan Low discussed the importance of working to protect consumers and enforce current regulations in the tobacco and cannabis industries. Assembly Health Committee Chair Jim Wood further discussed the concerning rise in use of vaping products in California and the U.S. and the emerging public health crisis that must be addressed by the Legislature and Administration.

The hearing featured three expert panels, beginning with Dr. Elisa Tong from the University of California, Davis and Kimberlee Homer Vagadori from the California Youth Advocacy Network to provide an overview of the vaping and electronic cigarette industry, its rapid rise in popularity, and the current regulatory landscape related to the products. The panelists discussed extensively data related to youth tobacco and cannabis use, industry advertising and marketing tactics, youth appeal to vaping products, and sources of access for such products. The panelists also detailed California city and county ordinances related to tobacco products; currently, 44 local ordinances prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, three city ordinances prohibit the sale of electronic smoking devices, and one city ordinance prohibits the sale of all tobacco products.

Committee members queried panelists about a number of issues, including tobacco enforcement activities and taxation, whether vaping products are a legitimate alternative to traditional combustible cigarettes, public education initiatives, nicotine content and concentrations, and whether lawmakers should implement more restrictive regulations and laws related to the products or prohibit them outright.

The hearing’s second panel focused on state regulatory actions and necessary improvements, with appearances from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Acting Director Susan Fanelli, Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) Chief Lori Ajax, California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) Director Nicolas Maduros, and two representatives from the California Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Panelists discussed the role of their respective departments in educating the public about tobacco and cannabis use, regulating industry entities, and enforcing current regulations in retail settings. CDPH Acting Director Susan Fanelli discussed CDPH’s surveillance data related to tobacco and cannabis use, particularly among youth, as well as CDPH’s approach to tobacco education, including the new public awareness campaign related to vaping which was established by Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order and is set to begin next week.

BCC’s Lori Ajax discussed her bureau’s regulatory and enforcement actions, including laboratory testing of cannabis products, seizure of products and operations of unlicensed cannabis retailers, manufacturers, and distributors, and public awareness initiatives related to the purchase of cannabis products from licensed entities. CDTFA’s Nicolas Maduro discussed his department’s activities related to licensure, fees, and taxation of tobacco products, enforcement around counterfeit tobacco and vaping products, and recent directives set forth for CDTFA through Governor Newsom’s executive order. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office further discussed its enforcement and investigatory actions related to tobacco and cannabis sales, taxation and licensure. Committee members discussed extensively local enforcement activities, strategies for ceasing operations of unlicensed tobacco and cannabis entities, and industry accountability.

Rounding out the hearing was CDPH Acting State Health Officer Charity Dean who provided an update on current vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI) cases statewide. According to CDPH’s most recent data, as of October 15, there have been 78 confirmed and 55 probable VAPI cases; 14 cases are still under investigation. Dr. Dean provided committee members with the health impacts and conditions associated with the VAPI cases, as well as ongoing investigatory actions by CDPH, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Public comment largely featured witnesses from the cannabis industry, medical providers and public health-related stakeholders, and business and retailer representatives. With California grappling with the sharp increase in youth vaping, activities by unlicensed cannabis manufacturers and retailers, and recent cases of vaping-associated illnesses and injuries, this issue is all but certain to be a significant issue to be further considered by lawmakers upon their return to Sacramento in January 2020.

The hearing agenda, background paper, and presentations from Wednesday’s hearing is available here. A video recording of the full hearing is available here.