A measure that would treat electronic cigarettes the same as tobacco under state regulations cleared a key Senate panel Monday, and heads next to the floor where, if passed, could clash with less stringent House language.

The Minnesota Senate Finance Committee passed the measure. It now returns to the Senate floor.

The bill restricts the use of the devices, usually filled with flavored nicotine, which are growing in popularity. In Minnesota, more than 80 percent of the state’s 200 e-cigarette retailers have popped up in the last year. Proponents of “vaping,” as its commonly referred, say it’s a safe alternative to smoking.

But  Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, who sponsored the bill, maintained there’s not enough research to prove secondhand vapors from the products are safe. Sheran’s bill would include e-cigarettes as tobacco under the Clean Indoor Air Act, banning their use indoors and in public spaces, and banning the sale of e-cigarettes and smokeless devices to those under age 18.

A House version of the bill sponsored by Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, which restricts use only in state-owned buildings and schools. Both bills ban sales to children under 18. The House bill could be debated this week.

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