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Bill banning e-cig sales to minors passes Senate

A bill outlawing the sale of e-cigarettes to minors is headed to the governor's desk after the state Senate unanimously passed it Tuesday. (Getty Images)

BISMARCK – A bill outlawing e-cigarette sales to minors in North Dakota unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, though one lawmaker warned that not defining the nicotine-delivery devices as tobacco products will make it more difficult to enforce the law and protect minors.

“Sometimes the good outweighs the flaws, and that’s precisely how I view this bill,” said Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, executive director of Tobacco Free North Dakota.

Senators voted 46-0 in favor of House Bill 1186, which makes it an infraction to sell or give anyone under 18 an electronic smoking device or alternative nicotine product, or for minors to buy, possess or use them.

Introduced by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, the bill also requires child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine containers and bans self-service displays for e-cigarettes.

The Senate didn’t change the bill as approved by the House 71-20 last month, so it will soon head to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for his signature.

Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, who carried the bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 6-0 do-pass recommendation, said the committee heard a lot of testimony and efforts to amend the bill but couldn’t decide on any changes that would make it better.

“Your committee decided rather than trying to fix the bill that really was getting these products out of the reach of the young, we should support the present bill,” he said.

Health advocacy groups and the state Department of Health have urged lawmakers to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products because the nicotine in the liquid vaporized by the battery-powered devices is derived from tobacco plants.

The definition would make e-cigarettes subject to tobacco excise taxes and require those who sell them to obtain a tobacco retailer license, as three North Dakota cities – Wahpeton, West Fargo and Grand Forks – have mandated through their city ordinances.

Twenty-three cities have updated their ordinances to prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors, according to the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy.

Oban raised concern about using terms like “alternative nicotine product” for products “that are indeed tobacco products and should be treated as such under the law.”

“Creating multiple definitions makes enforcement and compliance more difficult and protection for minors less effective,” she said. “In addition, currently we have no idea who’s even selling products like electronic cigarettes, and unfortunately this bill doesn’t help us to address that concern, either.”

Still, she encouraged a yes vote with the understanding “that we may need to make some improvements in the future.”

Sen. Jonathan Casper, R-Fargo, said the debate over whether to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products will continue as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration develops regulations for the devices. He said HB1186 struck a “middle-ground balance” between interests on both sides.

Senators also voted 9-37 Tuesday to defeat HB1078, which would have made it illegal for minors to use or be sold nicotine devices. Grabinger said committee members felt the bill introduced by Rep. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, didn’t go far enough.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

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