BOISE - Current Idaho law bans tobacco products from being sold to children, but doesn’t cover a new product called “e-cigarettes,” electronic cigarettes that contain no tobacco, but instead allow users to inhale a nicotine-infused mist without creating smoke.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, is sponsoring legislation to change that, and his bill was endorsed unanimously on Monday by the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee, which sent it to the full House with a recommendation that it pass.
Health districts around the state, including the Panhandle Health District in North Idaho, support the move and asked Nonini and co-sponsor Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, to pitch the legislation. The cities of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden already ban e-cigarette sales to minors, as do Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Nonini said the products contain “large amounts or what could be considered deadly amounts of nicotine.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician, said, “There’s no reason to suspect that nicotine delivered by a mist is any different than nicotine delivered via cigarette smoke. … I guess my question is, why are we allowing sales of these at all?”
Nonini, a smoker, said he understood Rusche’s desire on health grounds to not have people smoke at all. “I get that,” he said. “The purpose of this legislation is at least a starting point, try to keep them out of the hands of children.” E-cigarettes are marketed with flavorings, he said, as “an enticement to get children to start smoking.” He called the bill “a first attempt … to regulate the sales of these so they don’t get to minors.”
Lora Whalen, director of the Panhandle Health District, told the committee that e-cigarettes are “battery-powered nicotine delivery devices,” which come in “fun flavors” like bubble gum and light up when a user inhales. Idaho’s health districts unanimously approved a resolution supporting banning their sale to minors, she said.
“Minors should not have access to nicotine,” Whalen told the committee, calling the bill “just common sense.” She said, “Nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break.” Toxic levels of nicotine are much lower for children than for adults, Whalen noted.
Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, noted that a clause in the bill requires any mail-ordered electronic cigarette purchased on a credit or debit card to be shipped only to the address of record of the cardholder, as part of its age-verification requirements. She questioned whether that wouldn’t limit adults in purchasing the product, as well as children. Nonini said, “I guess I would rather err on the side of keeping ‘em out of the hands of as many young people as possible, as opposed to changing this.”
To become law, the bill still must pass the full House and Senate and receive the governor’s signature.
Rusche praised Nonini for proposing the bill, and said, “Sometimes you just have to take first downs instead of touchdowns.”