The vaping community was well-represented this morning in the Appropriations Committee hearing on AB 1500, though in our rush to get into Room 4202 by 9 AM, we were not able to connect with one member of our community who had made a long journey from Lakeport, and she missed it, to everyone’s regret.
The rest of us convened on the front steps of the Capitol in what’s becoming the usual way. On the vendor side, we had Geoff and Ramilya Braithwaite from Tasty Vapor, four people from Luxe Liquid, including owners Karra and Zach Lefler, at least four people from CultiVapors (not everyone signed in individually, though at least this time I thought of making a sign-in sheet so I could get a tally of who showed up), Ben Cabie and Jason Ramil from Grand Vapor Station, prepared to take more video, and John Jenkins and David Summers from The Vapor Spot. (The lobbyists from VMR (V2 Cig) and NJOY joined us inside later, but they never really join us, if you know what I mean.)
Jim Root, who has been putting thousands of miles on his car trying to organize brick-and-mortar vape stores into the California Vapor Association, rode up with us in my car.
On the vaper side, in addition to my husband Stefan Didak, we were joined by Syruss Flyte and his wife Melanie, who told me a very powerful story about the difference it made to her asthma (and the children’s), when Syruss switched to vaping from smoking. (I want a guest blog post!)
The first people to ask were told that we’d only be allowed to say our names, where we were from, and that we opposed the bill, but when we got into the room I spotted the helpful Tiffany Mok and decided to ask her. She said we could have two people deliver actual testimony and everyone else could say their names, which is what I tried to convey back to the group, but we were trying to choose the speakers and the hapless staffers were trying to enact some crowd control so the meeting could get started.
Jim and I ended up as the witnesses for the opposition, Jim because he had a very good prepared statement (it includes a call for evidence that e-cigarettes do, in fact, pose a threat to public health), and me because–well, because. Because I would be the best counter (apart from Melanie, but I hadn’t heard the asthma story yet) to the mother of the e-cig addicted teen. Because I’ve been studying up. Because I’m not afraid to speak in public.
I was trying to gesture the rest of the group over to stand in the speaker queue, but they didn’t get that part, so when their 2 seconds of “public comment for the opposition” was announced, they didn’t get to say their names. That was a pity.
Otherwise, things went much better for us than at the Government Operations hearing. Assemblymember Dickinson was smart enough not to mention flavors this time. His sob story witness was a mess, and distracted from the point by mentioning THC, which I pointed out by countering with a statement that marijuana is already illegal for anyone of any age without a prescription. Jim’s statement was well-written and compelling.
I was able to be focused and address the significant difference between an e-cig order and a wine shipment: the cost of the delivery signature relative to the cost of the purchase. This is the factor that will drive adults to purchase from out-of-state vendors. (Teens, of course, would purchase from out-of-state, and better yet, overseas vendors just to get around the law. But they represent a tiny proportion of online sales–so tiny that there appear not to be any actual statistics on it.)
And since California vendors would have to apply age verification to their out-of-state customers as well, it’s unlikely anyone from outside of California would continue to buy from them.
Which means, as I said, loss of business and loss of jobs. All because of an unenforceable law which is a solution in search of a problem.
The cigalike manufacturers would be both most and least affected by AB 1500 were it to pass, since the current definition of an e-cigarette in the health code refers most obviously to cigalikes, though it could be interpreted to mean second-generation devices as well, and Melanie Flyte told me that it could, in fact, fit the nebulizer she uses to treat her children’s asthma, though of course she doesn’t fill that with nicotine. But VMR and NJOY have products available in convenience stores and cigarette stores, and Luxe, Cultivapors, Grand Vapor Station, The Vapor Spot, Tasty Vapor, and hundreds more like them sell only through specialty vape stores or online.
Roger Dickinson didn’t seem to think much of my objections, or Jim’s objections, or the objections raised by the lobbyists from VMR and NJOY, who said they had made repeated attempts to work with Mr. Dickinson’s office, to no avail. Mr. Dickinson, of course, tells it the other way around, and threw their own words about growing retail sales back at them.
But an amazing thing happened.
The committee members, and in particular Frank Bigelow, the Republican vice-chair of the Appropriations Committee, began to ask questions. Serious, thoughtful questions. Questions that made me think that we were dealing with reasonable people. (And, in a few cases, questions that made it clear we were dealing with people who had political hobbyhorses.) And at the end of a series of questions about whether the bill was really necessary in view of the FDA deeming regulations, and whether the current definition of an e-cigarette was adequate, and who was responsible for actually checking the ID of the recipient (as opposed to paying for the adult signature service), and whether this bill would have any impact on cigarette use by teens or by medical marijuana users, Frank Bigelow did an amazing thing.
He directed the Republican members of the committee not to vote.
Democrats outnumber Republicans on that committee–as on all of them, I suspect, because this is California. But Assemblymember Ridley-Thomas (D 54) voted against the bill, and some of the others were not present. And not one of the Republicans voted.
At the conclusion of the vote chairman Gatto said “The vote is on call,” which I heard as “uncalled,” being unfamiliar with the way this state government stuff works. My immediate conclusion was that because the Republicans abstained, there was no longer a quorum, but I was confused and figured I’d better look it up. What was clear, though, was that the result was something none of us had expected.
At the very conclusion of the session, as you can see in the edited video, Mr. Gatto “lifts the call” on the vote and takes what amounts to a re-count. By this time even more of the committee members have skived off somewhere else, and the vote is 6-1 against. “The bill fails,” is the official verdict. “Mr. Dickinson requests a reconsideration.”
This, I am told, means that Dickinson has until Friday to scrounge up enough votes to get AB 1500 passed. Since even some of his supporters expressed doubts about certain aspects of the bill, he may have to work hard even to retain the yes votes he has. But now is not a time for complacency.
It’s a time for all the people who didn’t go stare the politicians down this morning to pick up the phone and tell the Democratic members of the Appropriations Committee why AB 1500 will not protect children.
For that matter, you could tell the same thing to the Republicans, because there’s nothing wrong with changing an abstention to a firm “no.”
I’ve edited the official recording so that you can watch just the part that pertains to AB 1500.
Note May 22: People were having difficulty watching the video when it was hosted locally, so I have now uploaded it to YouTube and embedded it here.