E-cigarettes face restriction


Richard Martinez / Iowa State Daily

As electronic cigarettes become a more popular replacement to tobacco products, speculation arises whether the usage of the new technology is in fact a safer alternative. 

Varad Diwate

E-cigarettes, often seen as an alternative to smoking regular cigarettes, might soon see a ban on sales to minors. A proposed local ordinance and state legislation could also mean tighter restrictions on such products.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) has filed a bill in the state legislature that aims to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18 years of age.

Quirmbach is assigned to a subcommittee that will look at two bills proposed on this issue. The subcommittee would also be responsible for hearings from different stakeholders. Quirmbach said he is optimistic about having a law in place by the end of this state legislative session.

In a press conference last week, Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes, Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) and Youth Shelter Services CEO George Belitsos talked about the new proposed regulation.

The local ordinance was proposed by the Youth Shelter Services in Ames and drafted by Holmes.

E-cigarettes are currently not regulated for sale by age unlike regular cigarettes. Also commonly known as vaping devices, these products heat a liquid solution to produce vapor. This vapor is inhaled and exhaled by users to stimulate smoking cigarettes. These products often contain flavorings with varying amounts of nicotine.

“It seems to me that the issues are going to be expanded. So changes will have to be made,” Holmes said. “We are trying to keep abreast of what’s taking place at the Capitol. We are trying to have a presence at those discussions so that we are all in agreement.”

Holmes said that the county ordinance would likely be altered to take into account the proposed state law. He added that it would be hard to guess when the ordinance and law would go into effect as both of them are being discussed at the same time. Public hearings have not yet been scheduled by the county Board of Supervisors.

Quirmbach has been a proponent of anti-smoking policies from his days in the Ames City Council. In 2000, he proposed a city ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants for most hours. This ordinance was struck down in 2003 by the Iowa Supreme Court as it was found to be more restrictive than the state law. In 2008, he worked on another workplace smoking ban.

“When these e-cigarettes came on the scene, it’s just very clear what they are all about. It’s about trying to get people hooked on nicotine, so that they subsequently wind up smoking,” Quirmbach said. “You could have a nine year old walk into a convenience store and buy an e-cigarette … when they are too young to buy an actual cigarette.”

E-cigarettes do not burn tar and other chemicals like in a regular cigarette. Thus, they are known to be less harmful.

Other potential issues include tax on e-cigarettes and their inclusion in the Smokefree Air Act.

“The State Attorney General Tom Miller has been very active in anti-tobacco efforts at the national level for a couple of decades … He has communicated with the Center for Disease Control for their scientific assessment of the dangers of e-cigarettes,” Quimbach said. “Once the CDC provides scientific background, then that will provide a basis for considering … these products in the Clean Air Act.”  

Helen Branch, co-owner of Vape On!, an e-cigarette store in Ames said that her store requests identification from customers and does not sell the product to minors. She supported the ban on sale to minors but did not approve of regulations that would limit using e-cigarettes in public places.

According to the ISU Policy Library, the Smokefree Air Act applicable from 2008 applies to Iowa State University and prohibits smoking tobacco on all university grounds. As of now, this policy does not address e-cigarettes.