In a victory for commonsense, the California Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee has voted to amend a bill that would have classified vapor products as tobacco products. As a result, the author of S.B. 140, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has removed his sponsorship of the bill, leaving it to languish in committee.

The committee’s refusal to pass S.B. 140 as presented stands in stark contrast with the treatment that bill received in previous committees. Unchecked by serious scrutiny, S.B. 140’s structural infirmities were overlooked in favor of a breathless desire to demonstrate concern for public health.

At the core of the bill was a false equivalence between vapor products and traditional cigarettes. Playing on a paucity of information, proponents of S.B. 140 spoke with authority about the consequences of tobacco use, while nuancing the extent to which vapor products present anything like a comparable threat.

Thus, for the throngs of passive participants in the legislative process who came to voice their opposition to the bill, the committee’s path to shelving it must have been confusing. For those more familiar with the process, it was a classic example of hostile amendments.

Here’s how it went. Sen. Leno brought the bill forward to the committee with knowledge of four amendments that would be suggested by the chairman. Of those amendments, he found three palatable. But one amendment, concerning the application of the definition of “tobacco product” to vaping systems, he refused to compromise on.

When the committee’s chairman, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, put forward a motion for adoption of the full slate of four committee amendments, Sen. Leno expressed his intention to remove his support for the bill if the motion should pass. Gray noted Leno’s admonition and attempted to move forward with the vote, only to be stifled by a subsequent motion on the original motion.

At that point, not only was the audience confused, the members were too.

After taking time to confer with staff, Gray chose to proceed with the motion on his motion, which was to adopt only the amendments that Leno approved. That motion failed. Immediately following that vote, Gray held a vote on his original motion, which passed. Asked if he would support the amended bill, Leno stated that he would not, because the bill was now “very dangerous.”

Sponsorless, S.B. 140 is now held in committee and will move no further in its current form. But, no doubt, the Legislature will have an opportunity to revisit the vaping question soon. Perhaps it will now once more fall to the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee to disabuse the rest of the Legislature of its persistent confusion, but I wouldn’t lay money on that prospect.

Featured Publications