Gov. Dayton has doubts about moves to restrict use of e-cigarettes

He backs rules to limit kids’ access, but thinks smokers may have faced enough sanctions already.

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Jesse Ly smoked his e-cigarette at the Smokeless Smoking kiosk at the Roseville Mall in Roseville on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

Photo: Rene Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that proposals this year to ban the indoor use of electronic cigarettes may go too far.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Dayton said that while he would sign a bill to restrict children’s ability to buy e-cigarettes, he is likely to oppose proposed restrictions on their use indoors.

“After we came down pretty hard on smokers last session, that’s probably enough for this biennium,” Dayton said. The state raised taxes on cigarettes last year. “We did enough to smokers last session.”

The governor’s position may quash the growing movement at the Legislature to restrict where Minnesotans can use the newly popular smokeless devices.

In Minnesota and across the nation, state and local governments are looking at putting e-cigarettes under the same restrictions as tobacco cigarettes. Some have already banned “vaping” in public places. Those restrictions are encountering pushback from e-cigarette users and makers, who say the restrictions hamper their freedom.

Dayton said he does not know whether there is definitive evidence that secondhand vapors pose a danger similar to secondhand smoke.

“Probably everything that you put into the air other than oxygen is some detriment to somebody,” the governor said.

At the Minnesota Capitol, senators have readied a ban on all indoor uses of the e-cigarettes for a floor vote. House members are prepared to vote on a version to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in public schools.

Backers of the restrictions include much of the same powerful coalition that supported the Freedom to Breathe Act that bans indoor smoking and restricts some outdoor smoking.

“Now is the time to initiate an action so that our businesses and communities all develop under a common understanding that indoor air is free of vapor as well as tobacco,” said Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato. Sheran said she plans to press ahead with her bill despite Dayton’s doubts.

Among groups supporting restrictions on e-cigarettes: Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and ClearWay Minnesota. Together, they have more than a dozen registered lobbyists at the Capitol pushing on a variety of health issues, including e-cigarettes.

Their efforts are buoyed by studies that show poisonings from e-cigarette liquids have sharply increased. In 2013, the Minnesota Poison Control System reported 50 poisonings among young people and children. That’s up from five such incidents the year before.

“We really want parents to know that this liquid nicotine can pose a fatal risk and that they should store it out of the reach of children,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said last week.

The increase in poisonings comes as far more people are using the smoking alternative. About 200 e-cigarette retailers now do business in Minnesota, the vast majority of which opened in the past year.

Cap O’Rourke, a lobbyist for Independent Vaping Retailers of Minnesota, said he was thrilled to hear about Dayton’s position. He was hired to lobby for more than 100 e-cigarette retailers just days before lawmakers began this year’s session.

“We’re glad the governor is waiting until the science takes the lead before telling private business owners how to run their businesses,” O’Rourke said.

Dayton said if e-cigarettes cut down on the use of regular cigarettes, as some users maintain, that may be a boon. Dayton supported an increase in cigarette taxes partly as a way to curb smoking.

“A lot of people are trying to quit smoking because of the higher price and are using this as a way of quitting smoking, which is what we want them to do,” the governor said.

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