Lawmakers look to tighten restrictions on vaping

While the House bill would prohibit vaping in some public places, University students and local businesses said the law would be ineffective.

Illustrated by Hailee Schievelbein

Image by Hailee Schievelbein

Illustrated by Hailee Schievelbein

by Erin Wilson

Minnesota may ban vaping in places where smoking cigarettes is illegal if a bill heard at a House committee earlier this month passes through the legislature. 

Chief author Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, presented the bill to the House health and human services committee meeting on Feb. 12. The legislation would broaden the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to include vaping in its definition of smoking, which means using vape products would be prohibited in areas like public transportation, places of employment, public schools and government buildings. 

Halverson said she brought the bill forward in an effort to limit youth smoking. 

“We bring these bills forward today to make sure that Minnesota maintains its status as a leader in health and a leader in preventing youth from starting to smoke,” Halverson said in the meeting. 

Some University of Minnesota students who use vape products said while they understand the motivation behind the bill, these efforts would be difficult to enforce. 

“I can vape in class. You can do it anywhere. … If I hold it in long enough, the vapor will evaporate in my lungs … and then I exhale nothing,” said Cormac, a University sophomore who uses a Juul vape product. “So, like, you can make it illegal, but for more discreet vapes, it’s not going to do anything.”

Because of age restrictions on vape products in Minneapolis, Cormac requested to be identified only by his first name.

University sophomore Ian, who also requested to be identified only by first name, also uses a Juul. He said while the University already bans vaping on campus, the prohibition is not effective.

“I don’t even know how you would [enforce it], there’s just too many people doing it. Especially like outside on campus. … You could even see people smoking cigarettes too. Nothing happens,” he said. 

Ian said vaping has led to more young people developing nicotine addictions. 

“Especially like because I think it’s … kind of like a chain, like you’re addicted to the Juul, and then … your friend doesn’t have one, he’s not addicted to nicotine,” Ian said. “He tries it and he’s like, ‘Oh, this is pretty nice,’ because the initial reaction … the first time you hit a Juul, you feel it’s just a nice buzz, you know, just like any nicotine product really.”

When the Freedom to Breathe Act prohibiting smoking in places of employment and public transportation passed in 2007, lawmakers didn’t anticipate the current popularity of vaping, Emily Myatt, Minnesota grassroots manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, told the committee. 

Sarah Johnston, a shift lead supervisor at Hideaway smoke shop in Dinkytown, said the legislation would not affect demand of vape products. 

“I don’t really think [it would affect business] because people are still going to vape regardless,” Johnston said. “I think multiple people that we sell vape products to mostly are probably using it outside and maybe within their own residence.”

Halverson said the bill has broad bipartisan support, similar to other efforts to prevent youth smoking. 

“It’s absolutely, … vitally important that we don’t normalize the use of e-cigarettes and that we make sure every Minnesotan has access to clean indoor air,” she said.

The bill was re-referred to a House commerce committee meeting on Tuesday.