DES MOINES — Vaping would be outlawed for everyone in most of Iowa’s public places and illegal anywhere in the state for those under 21, according to measures that advanced Tuesday in separate Senate subcommittees.
Supporters said the changes are needed to keep people safe and make sure Iowa doesn’t lose federal grants by having a legal age of 18, which is at odds with a new U.S. law of 21.
“We don’t want to depend on the FBI to come and enforce local smoking laws,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, in supporting legislation proposing to raise the legal age to 21 for buying, possessing or using tobacco, vapor or other nicotine products.
Vaping industry officials argued their product is different from cigarettes and should not be equated with secondhand smoke risks by coming under Iowa’s smoke-free air act.
The 3-0 Senate State Government subcommittee decision came on the heels of federal legislation that bans nationwide the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to anyone under 21. Backers of the Iowa legislation said the state could be at risk of losing nearly $4 million in block grants if state officials do not follow suit.
Senate Study Bill 3016 would prohibit a person from selling, giving or supplying any tobacco, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vapor products or cigarettes to anyone under 21. It also bars those who are 20 or younger from smoking, using, possessing, purchasing or attempting to purchase those products.
If passed by the Senate and House as a way of heading off what health officials have called a “vaping epidemic” among high school students, the bill would take effect immediately upon the signature of Gov. Kim Reynolds.
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Public health advocates praised the proposal, saying it would be a good first step in helping reduce kids’ access to vaping products as well as their ability to get them from older friends or acquaintances.
Four middle-school students from DeWitt linked through an online video hookup were among those who favored SSB 3016 as a way to limit “social access” for kids who get vaping products from online sources. No one spoke in opposition to the change.
However, Mike Triplett, a lobbyist with Iowans For Alternatives to Smoking and Tobacco representing a trade association of vape shops, cautioned senators against going beyond the bill’s parameters or “tinkering” with definitions that might have unintended consequences for Iowa businesses.
Earlier in the day, Triplett and other vaping industry officials spoke in opposition to a separate measure, SSB 3052, that would bring vapor products as well as environmental tobacco smoke under the enforcement umbrella of the state’s smoke-free air act that has been in place for more than a decade.
“We don’t think that vapor should be treated the same as secondhand tobacco smoke,” Triplett told a Senate Human Resources subcommittee. “The science is not there for vapor, let alone secondhand vapor.”
Travis Puls, who owns Atmosphere Vapors in Grinnell, told senators that “smoke and vapor are very different.”
Corey Halfhill, president and chief executive officer of Central Iowa Vapors, which has 11 stores employing up to 75 people, said applying smoke-free air act regulations to vaping “is something that could drastically affect our business as well as the employment.”
Nathan Blake, a deputy Iowa Attorney General, offered a similar caution, telling senators that “Attorney General (Tom) Miller is always concerned when regulations equate cigarette smoke with vaping because one is much more harmful than the other.”
Others credited vaping with helping Iowans quit smoking cigarettes.
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However, public health advocates applauded the measure and called for expanding them to include vaping in state-regulated casinos and of marijuana and other plant products intended for inhalation.
Quirmbach said he feared enforcement of Iowa’s clean indoor air regulations would be hampered if some Iowans were barred from smoking cigarettes but others were allowed to vape in the same places.
“We have enough evidence already to be wary of introducing this product into public spaces,” he said. “The burden of proof should be on the industry to prove that it is safe.”