Iowa lawmakers are attempting to keep pace with the growing presence of electronic cigarettes with several bills banning minors from using the products, but public health organizations say the bills don't go far enough and could undermine years of efforts to curb smoking.
Subcommittees in the House and Senate supported legislation Tuesday that would prohibit minors under the age of 18 to purchase or use electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, which will undergo further discussion in full committees. The battery-operated products heat liquid nicotine and produce a vapor users can inhale.
Retail and tobacco producer advocates and consumers, like Kristy Stoneburner, gave their support for the legislation. Stoneburner, manager at Central Iowa Electronic Cigarettes and a former four-packs-a-day smoker said she started using e-cigarettes 14 months ago and credits the products for helping her quit traditional cigarettes. She said the products give her and her customers a healthier alternative, free of toxins.
“Nothing but this e-cigarette has done it for me,” said the 45-year-old.
Public health advocates said the legislation needs to place e-cigarettes under the same regulations as traditional tobacco products that are taxed higher and have restrictions on where they can be used. Advocates said categorizing e-cigarettes as "alternative nicotine" or "vapor products" could set the stage for other products to be treated differently than tobacco products.
Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said one of the major distinctions in not classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products is the health hazards in smoking traditional cigarettes is the smoke and other chemicals, which has been linked to causing lung cancer.
"If I have to pick a trend I would prefer one that does not cause cancer in favor of one that does," Baltimore said.
Jeneane Moody, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, said the bill could compromise the years of lobbying efforts and anti-smoking policies and attract minors to smoke.
“It normalizes the behavior of smoking which undoes many years of progress of social norm changes in Iowa,” Moody said .
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, and other lawmakers agreed it was important to limit access to minors as quickly as possible.
“Let’s close this door now and get it shut and we’ll worry about other considerations down the line,” Quirmbach said.