Bill offers step forward in regulating e-cigarettes

A recent survey of teenagers showed many of them are experimenting with electronic cigarettes. Whether it’s simply a fad or a mistaken belief that they are safer than traditional cigarettes, the dangers — particularly nicotine addiction — remain real.

That’s the motivation behind a bill that state legislators could consider this session.

Under a bill State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he would introduce, Indiana would require stores to have a license to sell electronic cigarettes and would tax the battery-

powered devices like traditional tobacco products. His bill also would add e-cigarettes to Indiana’s statewide smoking ban and require containers holding the nicotine-infused liquid that is vaporized in the smoking process have child-resistant packaging to prevent accidental poisonings.

Clere said much remains unknown about the health risks posed by e-cigarettes — which don’t have the same chemicals and tar found in regular cigarettes — and he noted the surge nationwide of young people using e-cigarettes, which are sold in “vape shops.”

“These shops are springing up all over the state and flying under the radar,” he said during a Statehouse news conference late last month.

The provision to require stores to be licensed would allow staffers from the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission to check whom the stores are selling e-cigarettes to — just as they currently can at stores that sell traditional cigarettes.

The federal government’s annual drug use survey, released late last year, showed that e-cigarettes have surpassed traditional smoking in popularity among teens and that use rose with age — with 17 percent of high school seniors reporting using e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are often described as a less dangerous alternative than regular cigarettes for regular smokers who can’t or don’t want to kick the habit. Indiana law currently prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18, but Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the federal government hasn’t done enough to regulate them.

“Let’s all be clear — e-cigarettes are a new drug-delivery device,” Zoeller said, noting that they can also reportedly be used to smoke a liquid form of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — and other illegal drugs.

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, plans to co-sponsor the bill, and state Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, will sponsor companion legislation in that chamber.

Clere’s bill is a solid step in the right direction. Greater state regulation is needed, especially because the products are new and the research into the health impact of e-cigarettes is just beginning.