DMR: House OKs e-cigarette age limit
Feb. 11, 2014 11:49 PM |
Written by Jason Noble
A ban on the purchase and possession of electronic cigarettes by Iowans under 18 passed the state House on Tuesday.
House File 2109 prohibits sales to minors while remaining silent on whether the devices should be taxed like tobacco products or barred from use in public places. The House’s 76-22 vote sends the bill on to the Senate, where similar legislation is already under discussion.
“We acknowledge … that because nicotine may be addictive for some, that it’s appropriate to keep it out of the hands of children,” said bill sponsor Chip Baltimore, R-Boone. “That’s what this bill does.”
E-cigarettes, considered an alternative to traditional cigarettes, deliver nicotine vapor rather than tobacco smoke, with its myriad chemicals and carcinogens. Although there is broad support for preventing children from using the products, the bill has been controversial.
Anti-smoking advocates have criticized and opposed it for not classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products, a distinction that exempts them from the higher taxes levied on traditional tobacco products. That also exempts them from the state’s indoor smoking ban.
Opposition from groups like the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society led nearly two dozen Democrats to vote against bill, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough and represents a risk to public health.
“This bill is clearly bad for your lungs, it’s bad for your heart and it will increase the incidence of cancer,” said state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, adding, “This is simply bad for your health.”
Democrats also questioned whether a definition for “alternative nicotine products” included in the bill would nullify taxes currently levied on other more novel tobacco products, such as dissolvable strips, although Baltimore said that would not happen.
In an amendment, Rep. Tyler Olson attempted to also ban the sale to minors of electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine, arguing the devices could serve as a gateway to nicotine and tobacco products and normalize the social aspect of smoking among young people.
“It’s not just the nicotine that causes that habit” to form, Olson said. “I want to make sure all e-cigarettes, whether they have nicotine or don’t, are kept out of the hands of minors.”
Baltimore called that proposal an overreach, and the amendment ultimately was ruled out of order.
“I guess once you remove the cancer-causing smoke from the equation and once you remove the addictive nicotine from the equation, what you’re really regulating is a plastic tube with humidity,” Baltimore said.
The bill is supported by tobacco companies as well as many of the retailers that sell tobacco and smoking products. Despite the opposition voiced, no amendments were offered to tax e-cigarettes as tobacco products or ban their use indoors.
Jen Schulte, Iowa government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, issued a statement criticizing the bill’s passage.
The bill enables the tobacco industry “to dodge proven and effective tobacco control laws by allowing retailers to continue selling certain types of electronic cigarettes to minors, distribute free e-cigarette samples, and evade tobacco taxes,” the statement said. “The science remains unclear on the health effects associated with using these products, and the fact is Iowa should not be racing to pass a law that may do more harm than good.”