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Minnesota Legislature

House passes expanded indoor vaping ban

Rep. Laurie Halverson presents HF349 on the House Floor March 14. The bill would add electronic cigarettes to the definition of smoking for purposes of the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Clouds of vapor scented like cotton candy, grapes, cheesecake, and cinnamon churros could be exiled from indoor spaces.

House lawmakers voted 100-25 Thursday to pass HF349, which would modify the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to include “activated electronic delivery devices” used for vaping in its definition of “smoking.”

Sponsored by Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), HF349 would prohibit vaping on public transportation, at public meetings, in places of employment, health care facilities and clinics, public schools, state and local government buildings, buildings owned by public colleges and universities, and other facilities.

The bill would also limit the indoor use of any “lighted or heated” products derived from nicotine, tobacco, marijuana, other plants, and synthetics intended for inhalation. Business owners and local governments could still adopt stricter prohibitions.

It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) is the sponsor.

One in five Minnesotan students use e-cigarettes, and youth smoking rates have increased 50 percent since 2014, Halverson said.

Most of these young e-cigarette users have never used another tobacco product before, and all are risking long-term health consequences due to nicotine use, Halverson said on the House Floor.

“We’re losing ground for the first time in over 17 years … in helping to keep smoking rates low,” she said. “E-cigarettes are a direct cause.”

Several representatives spoke in support of the bill, stressing the lack of information regarding the contents of e-liquids, which are not subject to rigorous quality-control measures and potentially dangerous.

“This vaping thing is really out of hand. It’s out of control,” said Rep. Nels Pierson (R-Stewartville). “I think it’s just equal treatment with other tobacco products at this point.”

Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) commended the level of bipartisan support for the bill, commenting that the initial “Freedom to Breathe Act” was controversial when it was passed in 2007.

Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) spoke against Halverson’s assertion that e-cigarettes are not a smoking cessation tool, saying that she had spoken with people who credited the devices – which have adjustable nicotine levels – for their ability to quit smoking and resulting health improvements.

 “They can breathe again. It’s absolutely phenomenal … They are so grateful,” Theis said. “I really appreciate the thoughts behind HF349), the spirit behind it, but today I will be voting no.”

Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) opposed the bill as well, saying it would impede individuals’ freedom to make their own decisions, as did the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, as initially passed.

“Some people still actually believe in letting people make their own personal choices … without the nanny state telling them what to do,” he said. “This is not about healthier air … it’s about government telling people what to do.”

Rep. Barb Haley (R-Red Wing) acknowledged this view on governmental interference, but stressed the importance of addressing the well-known and chronic health problems that result from smoking, which drive up health care costs.

“One of my commitments to the people of my district was to work on lowering health care costs,” she said. “The rising cost of health care will bankrupt this state if we don’t make dramatic changes.”

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