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Indoor e-cigs ban coming to First State this fall

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

The First State is poised to add e-cigarettes to its statewide indoor smoking ban.

Delaware will be only the fifth state to ban the use of e-cigarettes in most indoor spaces when the bill signed by Gov. Jack Markell (D-Delaware) Tuesday takes effect in 90 days.

The measure adds the devices to the state’s 13-year-old Clean Indoor Air Act – which banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and other enclosed public spaces, while exempting private clubs and veterans halls. 

The bill’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Debra Heffernan (Bellefonte, Claymont, Edgemoor),  says  being among the first to address e-cigs is important.

“A lot of people were using e-cigarettes and electronic smoking devices to get around the Clean Indoor Air Act – using them in offices, businesses and restaurants," said Heffernan. "And not only do our sensitive populations, like children and older people, deserve clean air, but anyone working in those environments deserve to be breathing clean air.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne) agrees.  She co-sponsored this bill after helping lead the charge for passage of the original Clean Indoor Air Act 13 years ago and was concened e-cigs could erode Clean Indoor Air Act's impact

“Very important to follow-up on this right away before people got used to smoking [e-cigs] in restaurants," said Hudson. The e-cigarettes are not offensive to those that use them, but they are to others.  And even though the health issues are unclear – and that’s part of the reason we had to fight for this – the uncertainty is still a health issue and we had to fight to get this done.”

Senate President Pro Tem Patti Blevins (D-Elsmere), the bill’s primary Senate sponsor, was also worried about the consequences of failing to add e-cigs to the indoor smoking ban.

“That was one of my biggest concerns – was that The Clean Indoor Air Act, the integrity of it, would have been destroyed by not reigning in this kind of smoking," said Blevins. " And then, we could have gone backwards.”

This was the second effort to get a e-cigs ban passed.  A similar effort a year ago stalled in the state Senate where Blevins concedes it was still a hard sell this year.

“Unfortunately, the science really wasn’t in yet.  The FDA seems to be dragging its feet.  We would have liked to have had more information from them, but our Director of Public Health [Dr. Karyl Rattay] was really, really good at dissecting that information and sharing it with us,” said Blevins.

Supporters and Gov. Markell also cited the growing use of e-cigs by teens as an issue.   The National Youth Tobacco survey says e-cig use among high schools has jumped from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 13.4 percent in 2014.

A year ago, the state passed a law barring sale of e-cigs to minors.  Heffernan hopes ban on e-cig use indoors will help reinforce efforts to keep teens from picking up the devices.

“That is extremely significant.  I have three kids – two are teenagers. So, to me, this is helpful to show that it is not a normal thing to do indoors and that teens cannot go into Vape shops and buy e-cigarettes," said Heffernan.

The new law does include an exception for adults to smoke e-cigs in free-standing Vape shops, where customers can sample different products, but those shops must meet certain requirements.

Blevins says that was the only exemption she was willing to entertain in working to garner support for the new law.

"I think that's a reasonable exception.  I wouldn't have been happy with any other," said Blevins.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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