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Maine Lawmakers Consider New Regulations on E-Cigarettes

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AUGUSTA, Maine - Do you know someone who is a "vaper?" Or maybe someone who belongs to a "vaping club?"

Vaping is the practice of using electronic cigarettes - or e-cigarettes, which are smokeless but deliver the user a vaporized blend of chemicals, including nicotine.  
 

The Maine Legislature is preparing to consider proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes - or "personal vaporizers" - governing where they can be used to how they are taxed. And the effort is drawing bipartisan support in Augusta.

Tobacco shops across the state have embraced the relatively new battery-powered technology. And because nicotine is delivered, House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, a Democrat from Skowhegan, decided to file legislation to regulate the sale and use of e-cigarettes.

"You know, I think if we are talking about a product that has similar makeup of cigarettes and includes nicotine, and could be harmful to health,  we should be treating it as a tobacco product," McCabe says.

McCabe says that includes restrictions of where they can be used, in restaurants and other public places.

Others, including Attorney General Janet Mills, say they're concerned about marketing messages to young Mainers. While current law bans sales of e-cigarettes, Mills says there are clearly products and ad campaigns aimed at attracting young users.

"Fruit flavors," she says, "cartoon advertising, funky attractive packaging, the cheap prices. There are TV and radio ads with celebrity endorsements all saying how sexy these are. The contrary is obviously true - they are addictive, they contain nicotine."

Mills points out that the production and distribution of the substances used in the vaporizing devices is not regulated at the federal level, and that a person using an e-cigarette may be getting a far larger dose of nicotine than he or she might from smoking tobacco.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew also supports some type of state regulation, around both the devices and the products that are being vaporized in them.

"The research that is coming out around the impact of e-cigarettes on youth and youth smoking rates, certainly can’t recommend, at this point, what that reform may be," she says, "but we certainly need to take a look at the regulatory structure of e-cigarettes."

And Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, of Westbrook, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, says the panel will use McCabe’s bill as a vehicle to craft legislation including provisions for how e-cigarettes are taxed in Maine.

"We want to make sure, again, that they are not available or get into the hands of children. And I think that all of the strategies that we use to try and make sure they have the harmful benefits of these type products need to come to bear."
 
Currently, vaporizer devices and the compounds used in them are taxed at the regular sales tax rate of 5.5 percent. Tobacco products in Maine are taxed at a far higher rate - $2 on a pack fo 20 cigarettes - and some of that money is used for smoking cessation programs.

Those that use vaporizers argue that the devices are not aimed at kids, and adults should be able to make their own decisions about smoking tobacco or using vaporizers. A public hearing on the bill, which has not yet been printed, will be scheduled form some time this spring.
 
 

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.