Representative Phyllis Kahn proposes ban on indoor e-cigarettes

The proposed bill would treat e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes.

by Allison Kronberg

Minnesota could start treating e-cigarettes just like regular cigarettes.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed a bill Friday to include e-cigarettes in the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, which she authored in 1975, that would ban their use indoors.

She said she’s proposing the bill because the health effects of e-cigarettes are unclear, the smokeless alternative can appeal to young people and it would make the law consistent.

“The same controls that apply to smoking regular cigarettes would apply to smoking e-cigarettes,” Kahn said.

This summer’s new tobacco tax raised the price for a pack of cigarettes by $1.60. Since then, e-cigarettes have gained even more popularity with smokers in Minnesota.

Kahn said she’s heard many people support the bill.

“The negatives all come from people who are users of the e-cigarettes and maybe one from a manufacturer,” she said.

Bad for business

In its print ads, e-cigarette company FIN has encouraged its customers to “rewrite the rules.” Its website encourages users to “smoke when you want, where you want.”

University of Minnesota biology, society and environment sophomore Josh Meidl said he’s never smoked regular cigarettes and doesn’t plan to, but he carries his e-cigarette with him every day because he likes the taste.

“I feel like [the bill] just totally defeats the purpose of the e-cig, because one of its main purposes was to bring smokers back indoors,” he said.

While the move inside is a draw for some, businesses and agencies around the state are enforcing their own rules on the product.

Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland said the public transportation network banned e-cigarettes from its buses, trains and facilities this summer. Hennepin County banned e-cigarettes on county property in July, a move that county administrator David Hough called proactive at the time.

Joe Berg, general manager of the Library Bar and Grill in Dinkytown, said statewide regulation would be beneficial. Now, the Library asks people not to smoke e-cigarettes on the property, and they generally comply, he said.

Kahn said opponents of the bill argue e-cigarettes are beneficial for smokers who are trying to quit.

“And the answer is no, we’re not going to take it away from you,” she said. “You use it exactly where you’d use a regular cigarette.”

Nasario Sepeda, manager at Smokedale Tobacco in Stadium Village, said the store relies “heavily” on e-cigarette sales and doesn’t agree with the ban.

“The only way to see if it has any effect on us is if it passes,” he said.

Health effects unknown

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate e-cigarettes, and experts say they’ve been researched little.

A 2009 FDA study found potentially harmful substances in a majority of the e-cigarettes sampled. E-cigarettes often have nicotine and can be addictive.

“One thing is that the FDA is still struggling over the safety,” Kahn said. “We’re looking at if it’s a safe thing for individuals to use.”

Kahn said e-cigarettes could be a gateway to their more dangerous counterparts, especially for young people. University research found young people would experiment with e-cigarettes because they’re often flavored and because the students view them positively.

Ferdinand Schlapper, director and chief health officer at Boynton Health Service, said the smokeless alternative just prolongs addiction, although many use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking.

“Proven ways to stop smoking are nicotine replacement therapy and the patch, along with a supportive environment,” Boynton senior health advocate Timothy Bell said.

School of Public Health associate professor Deborah Hennrikus said she would support a ban on indoor e-cigarette use because there is still so little known about them. 

“There isn’t enough known to the extent to which e-cigarettes can help people stop smoking, or to the extent to which they appeal to adolescents as a gateway to using other tobacco products,” she said.

“They’re new enough that the research hasn’t been done.”


Melissa Berman contributed to this report.