The potential restriction of electronic cigarette use in Minnesota cleared a Senate panel Monday over opposition from users who say the devices are a safe alternative to tobacco.
Debate over the bill before the Senate Health and Human Services panel featured a reprise of testimony from last week’s hearing before a house panel, and additional witnesses who vigorously opposed regulating the devices without evidence of their risks.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato and Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, would restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and classify their use, known among enthusiasts as “vaping,” as prohibited under the state’s Freedom to Breathe Act, which prohibits tobacco use indoors and in public spaces.
Advocates for the ban, including the American Lung Association and the head of Minnesota’s Department of Health, say the devices, with candy-like flavors, are marketed toward getting another generation of kids hooked on nicotine, and that there’se no proof that the vapor emitted from the devices are safe.
Pat McKone, Director of the American Lung Assocation in Minnesota, said the liquids sold for inhalation by the devices are completely unregulated, and can be concocted in strip malls, basements, even the trunks of cars.
University of Minnesota Medical School professor Dr. Ann Joseph said the lack of regulation is the reason they should be closely watched.
But e-cigarette advocates say the devices are not a gateway to tobacco, rather than a gateway from them. Gregory Conley, a Heartland Institute research fellow and e-cigarette advocate who used the devices to quit smoking, argued that “Clean Indoor Air” is in reference to a bill that bans smoking, but called it merely a “pithy nickname.” Otherwise, he said, businesses like nail salons and auto mechanics would also be regulated. Lumping the vapors from e-cigarettes with those of combustible tobacco, he said, is ludicrous. If an e-cigarette user waits for our five seconds to exhale, nothing comes out.
“Someone could be using an e-cigarette in the back of this room and you wouldn’t know.” he said.
The bill heads next to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.