By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service
BOSTON -- The federal government shutdown that began Tuesday morning will slow down Food and Drug Administration regulations for e-cigarettes, originally planned to be released Oct. 31, Attorney General Martha Coakley predicted Tuesday when testifying before lawmakers contemplating restrictions for the unregulated products.
"It is a regulatory process that seems to take forever, and I am not hopeful, given the events in Washington, that these will be out by the end of October," Coakley told the Committee on Public Health while testifying on legislation imposing regulations.
Forty-four cities and towns, including Boston, have imposed regulations on e-cigarettes, but state law is silent on the increasingly popular products. E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that deliver nicotine by vaporizing it.
The FDA extended its deadline once for releasing regulations for e-cigarettes and nicotine delivery products. Lawmakers cannot wait for the federal government to restrict sales to minors, and prohibit use of the products in places where smoking is banned, Coakley said.
"There is no reason for Massachusetts not to act," she said. "Down the road, I am convinced the federal regulations will cover gaps in our laws . . . We need something sooner."
On Sept. 24, attorney generals from 40 states sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to meet its deadline and regulate electronic cigarettes in the same way it regulates tobacco products. Coakley was among them.
E-cigarette users said they have no problem prohibiting sales to minors, but they object to restricting use in public spaces or other spots with tobacco bans. Such restrictions will force them back outside with smokers, sucking in their second-hand smoke, they said.
Advocates pushing for restrictions said the debate is about preventing children and teens from starting the e-cigarette habit.
Jamie Richard, of Waltham, said lawmakers and federal health officials do not know enough about the effects of second-hand vapor to "lump it in with tobacco products." He quit smoking when he discovered e-cigarettes.
"I don't want to go stand outside with the smokers and breathe in their second-hand smoke when four years ago I made the decision not to smoke," Richard said.
Richard said his wife is allergic to tobacco smoke, yet she is not affected by his vaping, and even enjoys the flavored smells.
Dr. Pamela Schettini, a retired OBGYN physician from Tolland, said she opposes the legislation because it would hamper efforts of smokers trying to quit. Schettini is Richard's mother.
Schettini said both her son and husband quit smoking by switching to vaping nicotine. Once they quit, she watched their health improve and instances of colds, flu, bronchitis, and other infections decrease. Schettini said she has no doubts vaping nicotine is far healthier than smoking a tobacco product.
If the Legislature passed a restriction on vaping in public places, it would force reformed smokers to be around smokers and subject them the risk of relapse and second-hand smoke, she said.