A new Minnesota law that bans electronic cigarette use in restaurants, bars and almost all indoor workplaces and public spaces goes into effect next week.

Many communities and private establishments already ban vaping in areas where cigarette smoking is prohibited, but proponents believe expanding the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to include e-cigarettes will help reverse a troubling trend among teens using the devices and an increase in tobacco use.

“It’s an important step in making sure we’re not normalizing the use of e-cigarette tobacco use,” said state Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, who sponsored the legislation. “And it’s also about keeping e-cigarette vapor away from you and me. We really don’t know what the off-gassing of e-cigarette vapor looks like in terms of health effects.”

Beginning Thursday, the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices will fall under the same restrictions in the Clean Indoor Air Act, which restricts tobacco smoking in many indoor public places, from bars to workplaces.

Not everyone, however, is a fan of expanding the law to include e-cigarettes.

“Some of us still think that adults can do what they want free of government control,” said state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “It’s another step in the wrong direction.”

A ban on tobacco smoking in nearly all indoor areas went into effect in 2007 because experts said secondhand smoke was harmful, he said. But Garofalo isn’t convinced that there’s enough proof that the vapor from e-cigarettes is harmful.

“I don’t vape, but if I choose to, just leave me alone,” he said.

To protect and deter

Health officials say the vapor from these electronic smoking devices contain harmful chemicals, including ultrafine particles, heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead and other cancer-causing chemicals.

“By limiting the use of these products in public places, we protect people from exposure to harmful chemicals and send a message to kids and teens that e-cigarette use is not a healthy behavior,” said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Electronic cigarettes, e-pipes and other vaping products are battery-powered and allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid that contains nicotine, which health officials say is highly addictive and harmful to the adolescent brain. Nicotine can affect learning, memory and attention span, health officials said. It also can lead to cigarette smoking, they said.

Halverson began working on legislation regarding e-cigarettes in 2014 after she heard a neuroscientist talk about the effects of nicotine on the developing brain. The Legislature agreed that year to ban e-cigarette use in places regulated by the Department of Health, such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools, and to tax electronic cigarettes like tobacco, she said.

“That’s important because the high cost of tobacco is one of the most effective ways of keeping kids from starting to smoke,” Halverson said.

Use rising at alarming rate

According to the U.S. surgeon general, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, and their use has been increasing at an alarming rate. In Minnesota, nearly 20% of high school students surveyed in 2017 said they had used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days, up 49% from 2014.

Tobacco use in Minnesota has been declining for 20 years, Halverson said. But electronic cigarettes are reversing that trend, she said.

“It’s so sad,” Halverson said. “What they’re finding is that kids who start with e-cigarettes are going to move on with combustible tobacco. It’s a step toward tobacco use. We’re creating a whole generation of people who are going to be addicted to nicotine again. It’s really, really tragic.”

When Halverson first tried to expand the Clean Indoor Air Act to include electronic smoking devices, she couldn’t get enough support among her colleagues to get it out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.

But this year, the legislation passed with bipartisan support.

“The motivation was that they’re seeing this epidemic sweep through their schools,” Halverson said. “No one knew it was going to take over like it did.”

Even before the Legislature took action, however, at least 25 Minnesota counties and 31 cities added e-cigarettes to their clean indoor air policies, including Hennepin County, Minneapolis and Minneapolis parks. Some restaurants and other private establishments banned the devices even before the law passed.

“It’s one of those situations where private policy took the lead ahead of public policy in a lot of places,” Halverson said. “I was really happy to see restaurants and bars take the lead. Delta Air Lines was an early adopter of it, and then it became federal policy.”

Harder to spot

New law or no, vaping is likely to continue in some settings because it’s harder to spot than cigarette smoking, some say.

“Almost anywhere you go where you see a no smoking sign, you also see no vaping,” said Hassan Lulu, who helps manage his uncle’s store, Infinity Smokes, in downtown Minneapolis. “I mean, people do it kind of discreetly anyways. People come in here and buy vapes just so they can smoke it in their hotel room because they’re not allowed to smoke cigarettes. … The vape kind of helps people sneak the smoke,” he said.

“So I don’t think it will matter if they make it a law or not because people are going to do it discreetly regardless. I’ve vaped inside bars and clubs and they don’t do much but tell you, ‘Hey, no vaping.’ ”