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Beltway Confidential

Smoke shops back e-cigarette regulations to protect themselves

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Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Lobbying

Regulation is often a tool incumbent businesses use to keep out new entrants. Many journalists, however, understand regulation only as a tool the government uses to protect the public from business.

The conventional view of regulation causes confusion -- or at best, unwarranted surprise. Witness the unnecessary "actually" in this report on regulations about selling e-cigarettes:

When it comes to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, few people are as familiar as Jacob van Horn, who is the general manager of a smoke shop in downtown, which sells so-called e-cigarettes. He actually supports new regulations for retailers.

"You need to be ID'ed, you should have a permit, pay your taxes on them. I agree 100 percent with that," said van Horn.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that will impose tougher restrictions on e-cigarette retailers.

Specifically, retailers cannot sell from mobile kiosks. E-cigarettes cannot be sold in self-serve vending machines, and retailers must have a permit from the city to sell them.

So the government wants to protect smoke shops from lower-cost retail alternatives — and smoke shop owners support those regs. Nothing surprising there.

E-cigarettes contain no unhealthy ingredients. They do contain addictive nicotine, but I think these products don't need to be heavily regulated. That means the prime effect of the rules is hurting competition and hurting consumers.

(Of course, drugmakers, whose drugs compete with e-cigarettes as smoking-cessation methods, are lobbying to restrict e-cigs, too.)

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