SALEM — The Legislature was considering two bills that aim to keep so-called electronic cigarettes out of the hands of minors as they gain in popularity among Oregon teens.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that deliver a nicotine vapor to users with each puff, and manufacturers claim they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. But lawmakers and public health advocates worry that teens using e-cigarettes could become addicted to nicotine.
The state House Human Services and Housing Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to work on two bills dealing with the devices. The panel also held hearings on the measures last week.
HB 4073 and HB 4115 would make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes and their nicotine-containing liquids to anyone under 18. While that’s where HB 4073 stops, HB 4115 would also ban use of the devices in public buildings and workplaces, as Oregon now does with cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.
Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, a chief sponsor of HB 4115, told the committee last week that the bill “catches up with the technology” of e-cigarettes and applies the laws on smoking to the devices. He said it would protect “second parties” from unwanted exposure to the vapor or poorer air quality.
There is little disagreement about keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors, but opponents of the indoor-use ban say there is not enough evidence that vapor harms the health of users or those exposed secondhand.
E-cigarettes, whose flavored liquids have tasty-sounding names like Mocha Lite, Tiramisu and Killa Vanilla, are becoming more popular with teenagers, a state health survey says.
The 2013 Oregon Healthy Teens survey indicated that 5.2 percent of high school juniors had used e-cigarettes on at least one day in the prior month, up from 1.8 percent in the 2011 survey.
At least 27 other states have passed legislation prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a Colorado-based bipartisan group that aids state lawmakers.
HB 4115 would go further than an executive order Gov. John Kitzhaber signed in August 2012 making it illegal for state employees to use e-cigarettes in state buildings and on state grounds. The bill would treat e-cigarettes much like other tobacco products, making it illegal to “vape” inside all public buildings and workplaces in the state, as well as in any vehicle where someone younger than 18 is present.
The FDA does not currently regulate e-cigarettes, but it has warned that there has not been enough research into the devices to determine their health effects or the amount of harmful chemicals the vapor may contain.