Vape sales would be severely limited under the new legislation

Vaping products could be much harder to find in Connecticut under new state capitol legislation. The bill would limit sales to licensed “adults-only” smokehouses that could only admit customers 21 and older. The change would come into effect in June 2023.

The bill replaces an earlier version that would have banned flavored e-cigarettes but kept tobacco-flavored vapes in thousands of grocery stores and gas stations. Under the new language, licensed smoke shops could still stock flavors.

On Friday, the legislature’s finance, revenue and surety committee passed the last-minute change. Co-Chair Sen. John Fonfara (D-Hartford) proposed it, arguing that an outright ban on flavored vaping products could lead to a black market.

He and other lawmakers have also said adults should always have a legal alternative to cigarettes.

“You say, ‘OK, we’re going to put in the money to try to help people, but the product that helps people, we’re going to ban it,'” said state Rep. Joe Polletta (R -Watertown).

But others have argued that if flavored vape pens remain on the market — even at limited retailers — kids will find them.

“About 1 in 4 high school students now vape, and the appeal for them is, quite frankly, the flavors,” said state Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford).

The new bill also removes a 35 mg/mL cap on the amount of nicotine in vapes, which is of concern to many lawmakers.

“If you end up having more nicotine than a regular cigarette in a vaping device, how does that help you quit?” asked State Representative Eleni Kavros DeGraw (D-Avon).

Fonfara’s Eleventh Hour Amendment caught many lawmakers off guard. Twenty members of the finance committee were not even present to vote, which probably would have changed the result.

“I usually see both sides of this, and I’m really torn,” said state Rep. Sean Scanlon, who quit smoking five years ago. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Scanlon parted ways with his co-chairman and voted against the change, but then voted to advance the new legislation in the full state Senate.

It’s unclear if the vaping bill will get a final vote. The General Assembly adjourns in less than two weeks and similar legislation has run out of time in previous years.

Sallie R. Loera