Move to ban indoor vaping advances in Minnesota

Ded Mityay / Dreamstime / TNS
Ded Mityay / Dreamstime / TNS

ST. PAUL — Minnesota may become the next state to treat electronic cigarettes like combustible tobacco products when it comes to “vaping” inside public places.

The Minnesota House approved legislation Thursday, March 14, to add e-cigarettes to the state’s indoor smoking ban. The vote was 100-25. Similar legislation has bipartisan support in the Senate, but has not had a hearing this year.

At least a dozen states already ban the indoor use of e-cigarettes, commonly called vaping, in public places. Numerous Minnesota cities already have restrictions in place, but the bill approved Thursday would extend the ban statewide.

State Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, the chief sponsor of the bill, said the ban was needed both to protect the health of nonsmokers and to discourage young people from starting to use tobacco and products containing nicotine.

“E-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to smoking,” Halverson said. “This is a new nicotine delivery system for our children. E-cigarettes are ushering in an epidemic of youth smoking.”

Halverson noted that about 20 percent of high school students admit to vaping and youth tobacco use has jumped 50 percent since 2014. E-cigarettes with flavors like bubblegum and tobacco companies marketing to teenagers are likely a big reason why, she said.

Halverson added that 80 percent of people polled by Blue Cross Blue Shield supported adding e-cigarettes to the state’s indoor smoking ban. The Freedom to Breathe Act was approved in 2007.

The legislation approved Thursday would add e-cigarettes to the clean air law as well as preempt the use of other potentially harmful vapors, such as marijuana, in public spaces.

State Rep. Nels Pierson, R-Stewartville, said he worries about what chemicals are in a cloud of e-cigarette vapors. “It’s scary, because some of this stuff is coming in from who knows where and who knows what’s in it,” he said.

Cap O’Rourke, a lobbyist for the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota, told lawmakers on the House health and human services committee last month that some studies show there is no risk to inhaling second-hand vapors because it contains minuscule amounts of chemicals.

Research on the impact has been mixed. In 2014, the World Health Organization report questioned the safety of e-cigarettes and supported banning their use where other tobacco products were already barred.

But some lawmakers worry the ban will make it harder for long-time smokers who want to quit. State Rep. Tama Theis, R-St. Cloud, said she’s spoken to many constituents who are using e-cigarettes to wean themselves off tobacco.

“Yes, it is a cessation device,” Theis said. “I have a hard time saying, ‘No we can’t do this.’ ”

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the ban was not about clean air, but instead the “nanny state” over-regulating people’s lives. He said e-cigarettes are already largely treated like more traditional tobacco products.

“It’s not about healthier air,” Garofalo said. “It’s about government telling people what to do.”