Iowa House approves ban on sale of e-cigarettes to minors

Some lawmakers concerned e-cigarette use would socialize and normalize smoking

Although some representatives quibbled with the definition and whether a ban on “Electronic Smoking Devices” went far enough, the Iowa House voted 76-22 Tuesday to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

Despite those differences, lawmakers were urged by House File 2109 floor manager Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, to “do the right thing … keep e-cigarettes out of hands of our children.”

HF 2109 would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as well as the possession by minors of the battery-operated products that heat liquid nicotine and produce a vapor users can inhale.

However, it didn’t go far enough for Democrats who put up the 22 votes against the bill. Twenty-three Democrats and all 53 Republicans voted for it.

Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, sought to broaden the definition of e-cigarettes so the sale of fruit-flavored, nicotine-free e-cigarettes to children would be prohibited. Those devices, he said, are an attempt to market cigarettes to children.

While those without the nicotine don’t have the potential chemical addiction of tobacco, their use would socialize and normalize smoking, Olson said.

“It’s not just the nicotine that causes that habit-forming,” he said.

However, Baltimore argued that “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.”

Olson’s amendment was ruled to be non-germane and an attempt to bring it to the floor was rejected by Republicans 45-51.

Another amendment to prohibit the use of possession of e-cigarettes on school property met the same fate. Baltimore noted that it did not address the problem the sponsor cited – students using e-cigarettes on school buses – and that school districts have authority under current law to decide what to ban from school property.

That prompted Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, to say she had been looking forward to supporting the ban on e-cigarettes for minors, but was unable to “because the majority party refused to allow provisions in the bill to make it stronger and safer for kids.”

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, pointed out that the American Lung, Heart and Cancer associations all registered against the bill.

“It’s not about making a profit for any of these groups,” she said. “This is clearly bad for your lungs, your heart and increases your incidence of cancer.”

Among those supporting the bill were many retailers, tobacco companies and the Iowa Association of School Board supported it.

Baltimore agreed there are decades of research showing the dangers of smoking because lung cancer is caused by smoke and carcinogens in smoke.

“Nicotine was the addictive hook,” he said, but thanks to innovation e-cigarette makers “have taken the carcinogenic smoke out of the equation.”

None of those associations Wessel-Kroeschell mentioned offered research showing e-cigarettes to cause cancer or are addictive, Baltimore said.

“This is simply an effort to keep nicotine products from minors,” he said.

Democrats said they hoped their Senate colleagues would add many of the changes they were unsuccessful in getting approved in the House. 

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