- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Minors would no longer be able to buy or use e-cigarettes in Iowa under a bill approved Wednesday by a legislative panel.

The Senate Human Resources Committee unanimously voted in favor of the measure, which is now up for debate on the Senate floor.

The bill provides a clear definition of what an e-cigarette is and bars anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing or using the devices. An amendment adopted by the committee also would place restrictions on retailers, requiring a permit for sales and prohibiting free samples and availability in vending machines.

There are currently no restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes in Iowa. E-cigarettes simulate the act of smoking by heating liquid and nicotine into a flavored, smokeless vapor. They are frequently used by smokers trying to quit, but they are gaining popularity among teenagers.

The legislation won initial support in February on a 76-22 vote in the House.

Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said implementing a ban is important to ensure that Iowa’s youth avoid nicotine addiction.

“We want to make sure children are protected and not preyed upon in any way,” he said.

And though many people use the devices as an alternative to actual cigarettes, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said there isn’t any proof that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking.

“I think e-cigarettes are bad for anyone that uses them,” he said. “They have evolved rapidly and they’re being marketed like cigarettes were in the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

Bolkcom also argued that e-cigarettes might not be considered as toxic as cigarettes, but they still deliver various toxins to users.

“For the people that inhale this stuff, they’re taking in some powerful impalements,” he said.

The effort, then, is an attempt to protect as many minors as possible, Bolkcom said.

“Imagine if we knew 50 years ago what the damage of tobacco was going to be,” he said. “So here we are, trying to regulate a new nicotine-addiction operation.”

Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said lawmakers will continue to assess the best way to handle sale and use of e-cigarettes, but he said he agrees that something needs to be done.

“We also want to see this bill move forward, and we support protecting kids,” he said.

Industry groups have displayed support for e-cigarette restrictions. Public health activists have also offered their support of barring sale to minors, though they have said they also would like e-cigarettes to be classed as tobacco products, making them subject to additional restrictions and taxes.

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