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Minn. Senate Votes to Equate E-cigarettes to Smoking

Updated: 05/08/2014 7:02 PM
Created: 05/08/2014 4:24 PM WDIO.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Stringent standards barring the use of electronic cigarettes in places where regular tobacco isn't allowed prevailed Thursday in the Minnesota Senate, which turned back an attempt to pare down proposed regulations.

The approach endorsed Thursday by a 35-28 margin goes further than a House companion bill, so the two measures must be reconciled for any e-cigarette regulations to become law. It would equate e-cigarettes with standard smokes and classify the new devices under the state's indoor air law.

E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution that users inhale, a habit referred to as "vaping." Many former smokers have flocked to them as a way to satisfy a nicotine craving without ingesting tar or exhaling smoke. But some wonder whether the devices keep smokers addicted or hook new users and encourage them to move on to tobacco. Whether vaping has health risks for users or those around them is a source of intense debate.

Aside concerns about scientific unknowns, supporters of the toughest rules said image matters and that allowing e-cigarettes in restaurants, offices and other public spaces normalizes the behavior.

"We should get the message straight and tell kids that smoking is just not right," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. "I don't care what form it is."

The voted defied party lines, with Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the debate.

Opponents of treating e-cigarettes like other cigarettes said not enough is known about health risks to justify a move to limit their use.

"Where does that end? What are the unknown risks of Cheetos? What are the unknown risks of fried red meat? What are the unknown risks of tap water in St. Paul?" argued Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge. "There's no end to this logic."

Both House and Senate bills impose restrictions on sales of e-cigarette devices and related liquids to minors. The House bill would also make them off-limits on school property and state government buildings only.

Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, said the Senate vote makes her hopeful her colleagues will embrace the stronger regulations.

"The use is growing so rapidly, and we're getting so far behind so quickly," she said, adding, "The momentum is there."

The e-cigarette measure is part of a broader health policy bill that, among other things, prohibits anyone under 18 from using tanning beds.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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