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Dayton breaks with health commissioner on restricting e-cigarettes

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Minnesota lawmakers may change course on how strictly to regulate electronic cigarettes after Gov. Mark Dayton publicly disagreed with his health commissioner over whether e-cigarettes should be prohibited indoors.

Dayton said Tuesday he opposes a bill in the state Senate that would ban the use of e-cigarettes in public buildings and businesses -- treating them just like traditional tobacco cigarettes. His comments directly contradicted the testimony of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger at a Senate committee meeting Monday.

"After we came down pretty hard on smokers last session, that's probably enough for this biennium," Dayton told the Star Tribune, referring to tobacco tax increases that were enacted last year. "We did enough to smokers last session."

The bill is awaiting action in the state Senate. But in response to the governor's comments, it was moved back to committee Wednesday for discussion over whether the indoor ban would be taken out, the Associated Press reports.

Dayton said he would sign a bill to restrict children's ability to buy e-cigarettes and to keep them out of schools, but he would oppose making them subject to the indoor air law.

The bill's sponsor, DFL Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato, was caught off guard by the governor's position and said she wants to continue pressing for the broader restrictions, according to the AP.

Commissioner Ehlinger testified at a Senate committee meeting Monday, saying the vapor that is emitted from e-cigarettes could undermine the state's indoor smoking restrictions and glamorize smoking among young people.

"The state has a responsibility to act on this. This is a threat to the health of the public," Ehlinger, who is a medical doctor, told the committee.

Michael Schommer, a spokesman for Ehlinger, said the health commissioner was "providing input from a public health perspective. The governor's perspective is his own."

"I do not require my commissioners to agree with me on every issue, and I specifically gave Commissioner Ehlinger my approval to take, as the Commissioner of Health, the position he believes is right," Dayton said in a written statement to the AP.

A companion bill in the House includes the ban on children having access to e-cigarettes. It would allow state government to restrict e-cigarette use in their buildings, and private businesses could decide for themselves.

A patchwork of e-cigarette regulations is springing up in state and local governments as they try to address some of the questions surrounding the products. Some communities have banned "vaping" in public places, for example.

E-cigarette promoters want public officials to wait until research on the health effects of the chemicals has been conducted before putting restrictions in place. There isn't much research on the subject yet, although the Food and Drug Administration has begun studying the issue.

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