ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Vaping would be banned from bars, restaurants and workplaces across Minnesota under a bill that passed the House on Thursday, a proposal that's aimed in part at reversing the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people.
The bill would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes wherever tobacco smoking is now banned under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, which covers the vast majority of public buildings and workplaces in the state, as well as public transportation. It would also cover more products, including any that might contain marijuana or synthetic nicotine.
The chief author, Rep. Laurie Halvorson, said e-cigarettes are "ushering in an epidemic of youth smoking." She said one in five Minnesota high school students now use them.
"We're losing ground for the first time in over 17 years of great work by Minnesotans in helping to keep smoking rates low," the Eagan Democrat said. "Now youth tobacco use is on the rise. And e-cigarettes are a direct cause."
Halvorson said e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to smoking, adding that e-cigarette vapors contain dangerous chemicals so their use indoors undermines the state's clean air protections.
But Rep. Pat Garofalo dismissed the idea that the bill is about keeping e-cigarettes away from kids and schools, or providing healthier air. He said it's about government telling people what to do.
"Some people still actually believe in letting people make their own personal choices, and having personal freedoms, without having the nanny state tell them what to do," the Farmington Republican said.
The bill is backed by Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 groups. Spokeswoman Laura Smith said they hope the bill will now get a hearing in the Senate, given its bipartisan support in the House, though no action has been scheduled.
Twenty-five counties and 31 cities across Minnesota have already added e-cigarettes to their clean indoor air policies, according to ClearWay Minnesota, an anti-smoking group funded via the state's 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry. The bill would extend similar restrictions statewide. It would also tighten up language against e-cigarette use in schools, though most districts already have tobacco-free policies to ensure that vaping in school is prohibited.
A narrower 2014 state law prohibited e-cigarette use at day care centers, health care facilities, state and local government buildings, in college and university buildings, and certain other facilities.
On the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday released proposed guidelines to reverse what health officials call an epidemic of underage vaping. The plan would restrict sales of most flavored products to stores that verify the age of customers upon entry or use separate, age-restricted sales areas.