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Minnesota Senate to vote on e-cigarette indoor smoking ban

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The full Minnesota Senate will consider a bill to regulate the growing e-cigarette industry.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed a bill on Monday that would classify electronic cigarettes in the same fashion as traditional cigarettes. It would add "vaping" to state indoor air laws that bar tobacco use in public places and most businesses.

The Star Tribune reports the provision has been heavily criticized by e-cigarette store owners and has been pulled out of a companion bill in the House. If the Senate and House pass differing versions of the bill, those differences would have to be worked out in a conference committee.

Supporters of e-cigarettes say they provide users a form of nicotine that comes without the carcinogens contained in cigarette smoke. They also say the product has helped many smokers quit.

The owner of an e-cigarette store in Woodbury, Jesse Griffith, told the newspaper the indoor ban would have a negative effect on about 200 e-cigarette retailers, 80 percent of whom have opened in the last year.

"It would make it harder for businesses like ours to survive," said Griffith said. He also said restricting the use of e-cigarettes could send former smokers lapsing back into the habit.

But Sen. Ron Latz said there's not enough known about the possible health ramifications for lawmakers to exempt vaping from the state's Freedom to Breathe Act.

E-cigarettes use a heated liquid nicotine solution. Users inhale a vapor, but they don't emit the chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes. Product advocates say it sends the wrong signal to treat them as equal to cigarettes before scientific studies determine the health risks.

"If you're working in a hotel, restaurant, bar or VFW, I'm not sure you want to be forced to choose between keeping your job and being exposed to some unknown array of chemicals being released into the atmosphere," Latz said.

A recent poll from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota shows 79 percent support expanding the indoor air law to include e-cigarettes.

Another provision in the law would criminalize cases where the devices are sold to minors. According to the Associated Press, no one spoke against that provision.

Poisonings from e-cigarette fluid spiked in Minnesota last year. There were 50 poisonings related to e-cigarette fluid in 2013. A dramatic increase from 2012 when there were only five. The poisonings include calls where e-cigarette liquids have been swallowed, inhaled or come into contact with eyes or absorbed through skin.

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