Proposed e-cigs ban for Neb. minors sparks debate

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Supporters of a proposal to ban Nebraska’s minors from using e-cigarettes argue there has not been enough study to show they are safe, but opponents said the product could be used to help stop smoking cigarettes.

Lawmakers began debate Monday on a measure that would ban minors from using e-cigarettes and stores from selling them to anyone under 18. Senators didn’t vote on the measure Monday.

Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, who introduced the legislation, said there hasn’t been enough study to know if e-cigarettes are safe. Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that give users a puff of vapor typically containing nicotine and sometimes flavorings such as fruit or mint. Users can vary the amount of nicotine.

“Are they safer than cigarettes?” he said. “Probably. Are they safe? We don’t know.”

Minors who use e-cigarettes could be charged with a misdemeanor, as could businesses that sell the product to a minor - the same penalties currently on the books for tobacco, Karpisek said. A minor can be free from prosecution if he or she provides evidence for the conviction of the person selling them the tobacco product.

Stores would have to keep the products behind the counter or in a secure display case, though tobacco specialty stores, which ban minors without a parent or guardian, would be exempt from that provision.

Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo tried to amend the measure to eliminate the restrictions on where the e-cigarettes could be placed in a store, saying that they’re a way to help people stop smoking. Johnson’s amendment failed on a vote of 4-24.

“It should be able to have a better visibility in the marketplace,” he argued.

Keeping the product off the counter is designed to prevent theft, Karpisek said.

“If we don’t want kids to have them, which I don’t think we do, we also don’t want it to make it easy for them to steal,” Karpisek said.

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln had concerns about the proposed ban. He talked to parents who said that if they wanted their child to quit smoking, they would want to be able to use e-cigarettes.

“We’re banning a product that can get them away from a product that is dangerous,” he said.

Before lawmakers recessed for lunch, Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion introduced an amendment aimed at Coash’s concerns, making it only make it a penalty to sell the product to minors. Lawmakers have not yet voted on this amendment.

“If a parent wants to get their kid off of nicotine and they want to buy it and let them use it, that’s allowed,” Kintner said.

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