ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Supporters of defining electronic cigarettes in the same light as traditional tobacco products won a key round Monday in the Minnesota Legislature.
By an 11-8 vote, lawmakers pushing for tough regulations on the fast-spreading devices defeated an effort to pare back their bill. The Senate Finance Committee sent a bill putting the e-cigarette devices under the indoor air act to the floor for a vote. If it became law, it would mean e-cigarettes would be barred wherever standard smokes aren't allowed.
"It just asks that the risks that are unknown are not imposed on other people in public places," said Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.
E-cigarettes are thin, cylindrical devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution that users inhale. Unlike regular cigarettes, they don't emit smoke or tar, but there is debate over whether the vapor is clean or laden with chemicals on the way out. The Food and Drug Administration is conducting studies on e-cigarettes but has given no indication of when the findings will be ready.
The vote to preserve wider use restrictions split more along geographic lines than party lines. Another showdown is expected when the bill hits the floor, which could be this week.
"I'm not sure I'm willing to call this activity smoking at this point," said Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud.
Opponents of the strict regulations said lawmakers shouldn't get so far ahead of the science. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign a bill to restrict children's ability to buy e-cigarettes and to keep them out of schools, but he has said plans to make them subject to the indoor air law could go too far.
The House e-cigarettes bill is confined to provisions meant to prevent access by minors. A vote on that measure could come at any time.