Minors would be prohibited from purchasing electronic cigarettes in Nebraska under legislation heard by the General Affairs Committee Jan. 27.
Introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, LB861 would add vapor products to the list of tobacco-based items that are illegal to sell to children under 18 years old. In Nebraska, a vapor product is defined as any noncombustible tobacco-derived product containing nicotine that employs a mechanical heating element, battery or circuit.
Minors who use vapor products would be violating the same law that applies to other tobacco products, a Class V misdemeanor. Selling a vapor product to a minor would be a Class III misdemeanor, the current penalty applied to other tobacco products.
The bill also would require retailers to display vapor products in secured areas. Tobacco specialty businesses that do not permit minors on the premises would be exempt from this restriction.
Karpisek said he brought the legislation because of the potential health risks of electronic cigarettes.
“I don’t feel there has been enough research on e-cigarettes for minors to have them,” he said.
Tim Bowen of Plumes e-cigarette stores in Omaha testified in support of the age restriction elements of LB861, saying his stores already “aggressively” enforce a policy of not selling any vapor products to minors. Bowen was concerned, however, that proposed regulations on where products could be displayed in his store would hurt his business. Allowing adult customers to handle accessories and sample the products is critical to helping them become familiar with the new technology of vapor products, he said.
Ann Elliott of Lincoln, a vapor product user, also spoke in support of the proposed age restrictions of the bill, but opposed the bill’s language concerning self-service product displays. She agreed with Bowen that her ability to sample vaping products helped her decide the most effective way to reduce her nicotine intake.
Bill Peters, lobbyist for the Cigar Association of America, testified in opposition to some aspects of the bill. He said that the regulations proposed in LB861 should not apply to the tobacco specialty stores that do not sell vapor products. “Traditional cigar stores” currently do not have a problem with unaccompanied minors, he said, so adding the age and self-service restrictions would be unnecessary.
David Holmquist of the American Cancer Society provided neutral testimony. To be consistent with federal regulations, he said, electronic cigarettes should be regulated in the same way as other tobacco products. The ACS does not recommend electronic cigarettes as a tool to reduce nicotine, Holmquist said, and the group is concerned that electronic cigarettes may create new tobacco users.
Holmquist urged the committee to amend the bill’s language to distinguish between vapor products and electronic cigarettes, because some vapor products do not contain nicotine.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.