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Nebraska, Iowa target vaping after new federal restrictions

Posted at 1:39 PM, Feb 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-02 14:39:02-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Roughly one month after the federal government announced a new crackdown to keep e-cigarettes away from children, state lawmakers in Iowa and Nebraska are forging ahead with similar proposals of their own.

Both states are considering new laws to raise the minimum age for vaping to 21 years old in addition to other measures to try to restrict the product, such as a ban on flavored vaping liquids and a proposal to bar minors from even possessing vape devices.

States across the nation are pitching their own regulations after the FDA announced Dec. 20 that it was raising the minimum age to 21 to buy products with nicotine to comply with a law approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. Some states are looking to ban certain flavored vaping products as the FDA has done, and others have already done so. States that are pursuing laws after the federal ban are generally trying to align themselves with federal law so that local authorities can prosecute violators.

An Iowa Senate subcommittee has advanced a measure to raise that state’s legal age from 18 to 21 to eliminate the conflict with federal law. In Nebraska, a legislative committee will review its own 21-and-older bill on Tuesday, and the sponsor said he doesn’t anticipate any major opposition now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s policy is in place.

“It will help level the playing field among our retailers,” said Nebraska state Sen. Tom Briese, of Albion, the chairman of the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee.

Under current law, Briese said, “you could have one retailer who chooses to follow the FDA regulations and another down the street who thinks, ‘The FDA’s not going to visit me, I’m only going to comply with state law.’ It creates an unfair competitive advantage for the retailer who’s willing to roll the dice.”

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn liquid, often containing nicotine, into an inhalable vapor. They’re generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but health officials have warned nicotine is harmful to developing brains. V aping also may encourage kids who don’t smoke to take up the habit.

The Iowa proposal would bar anyone younger than 21 from buying, possessing, or using vapor, tobacco or nicotine products.

“To me, the question boils down to one of enforcement,” said Iowa state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, of Ames. “I think we want to empower our local police and sheriff’s departments to enforce the age of 21. We don’t want to have to rely on the feds.”

Quirmbach said he’s optimistic lawmakers will accept the proposal given an apparent rise in minors who use vaping devices. But another proposal that would regulate vapor products under Iowa’s smoke-free air act is facing resistance from industry leaders, who argue that vaping mist and cigarette smoke are different.

Nebraska lawmakers will also consider a bill to prohibit youths under the age of 19 from even possessing vaping devices. Current state law only bars them from smoking the devices.

Nebraska Sen. Dan Hughes, of Venango, said he introduced the bill at the request of K-12 school administrators who are struggling to keep the devices out of their buildings.

“It’s about the health and safety of our kids,” Hughes said. “Their bodies are still growing,” and the effects of vaping aren’t fully known.

Another Nebraska bill would prohibit retailers from selling flavored vaping liquids except for ones that taste like menthol or tobacco. Briese, the bill’s sponsor, said flavors such as chocolate, honey, vanilla and fruit could appeal to children and encourage them to take up vaping.

Sarah Linden, who owns vape stores in Nebraska and Iowa, said she’s concerned that Nebraska “might be jumping gun” with a law that restricts flavored vaping liquids.

She noted that the federal government has already prohibited them in e-cigarettes and vaping products, and most stores have already sold out their inventory in advance of Feb. 7, when the ban goes into effect. However, Linden said the FDA left open the possibility that it might approve flavored liquids in the future, and if the agency did, Nebraska’s ban would be stricter than federal law.

“There’s really no reason to have this additional bill,” said Linden, the president of the Nebraska Vape Vendors Association. “We should let the federal government dictate which products are approved or not based on research.”

Linden said her group favors keeping Iowa and Nebraska’s current minimum ages, but understands that both states may need to raise them to 21 to stay aligned with federal law. States that contradict federal law are sometimes at risk of losing federal money.