COLUMBUS: A bill to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of minors cleared the Ohio Senate on Wednesday, amid questions from some anti-smoking groups about how the proposal defines the products.
The proposal prohibits those under age 18 from obtaining, possessing and using e-cigarettes. Sellers would have to confirm buyers’ ages.
The House passed an earlier version of the bill, and representatives would have to agree to the Senate changes before the measure could go to the governor.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with aerosol puffs that typically contain nicotine, and sometimes flavorings like fruit, mint or chocolate. Users get their nicotine without the thousands of chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes.
State Sen. John Eklund held up an e-cigarette on the Senate floor so his colleagues could see it before they voted.
“Today, any child with a few bucks can walk into a retail establishment in Ohio and buy one,” said Eklund, R-Chardon, while describing the need for restrictions.
Ohio’s bill defines e-cigarettes as “alternative nicotine products” rather than tobacco-derived products. Few studies have explored exactly what chemicals are in them, and in what concentrations, and whether those levels are harmful.
The Ohio State Medical Association and other anti-smoking groups have questioned the new category, saying it could exempt the products from taxation laws that govern tobacco among other issues.
State Sen. Charleta Tavares told her colleagues she supported the bill, but thought more should be done to address how e-cigarettes are taxed and whether they can be used indoors.
“Skirting around the law by coming up with new devices that are still nicotine products — they should be treated on an equal basis with their counterparts,” said Tavares, D-Columbus.
The new definition was crafted with the help of Lorillard Inc., the nation’s third-biggest tobacco company based in Greensboro, N.C. It acquired e-cigarette maker Blu Ecigs in 2012.
Kurt Leib, Lorillard’s Midwest regional manager of government affairs, told the state Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee in written testimony last month that e-cigarettes don’t fit neatly into the state’s current law.