- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska retailers who specialize in e-cigarettes voiced support Monday for a bill that would ban minors from using the products.

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 delivered in each puff.

They’re commonly used by smokers who are trying to quit, but their growing popularity among teenagers has caught the attention of Nebraska lawmakers. And recent studies suggest kids are now getting a first taste of nicotine through e-cigarettes and then moving on to regular tobacco products.

Supporters of e-cigarettes argue that they’re a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, which rely on tobacco and other cancer-causing chemicals. The proposal was backed by store owners in Omaha and Lincoln and industry groups in Nebraska.

Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber said he introduced the bill after seeing a U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that showed an increase in e-cigarette use by minors. About 7 percent of minors said they’d smoked at least one e-cigarette in 2012, up from 3 percent the prior year, according to the report.

“I was concerned to learn that there was nothing in Nebraska law to prevent a minor from purchasing and using such vapor products,” Karpisek told the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee. “… I just don’t feel that there’s been enough research on e-cigs for minors to have them.”

Minors caught with e-cigarettes would face a misdemeanor charge, and retailers who sell to an underage customer would face a six-month suspension of their tobacco license. The bill would also require retailers to display electronic cigarettes behind counters or in a secured case, with the exception of cigar bars and tobacco specialty businesses.

Forty state attorneys general have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate electronic cigarettes in the same way it regulates tobacco products. Health experts have argued that the effects on users haven’t been adequately studied.

Tim Bowen, the owner of Plumes, an Omaha e-cigarette store, said e-cigarettes helped him beat his addition to cigarettes. Bowen said his store already prohibits sales to minors, but his clerks catch about four a week trying to buy products.

“We believe that (the ban for minors) is very, very necessary,” he said.

David Holmquist of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network said research has yet to show whether e-cigarettes pose health risks. Holmquist also raised concerns that e-cigarettes could reverse years of work by advocates to make cigarettes socially unappealing.

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The bill is LB861

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