A Senate committee voted to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes.
The Senate Health & Welfare Committee voted 3-2 Friday for a bill that would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in places where smoking is already prohibited, including workplaces, hotels and motor vehicles carrying children.
A similar bill already passed the House, but that version included a ban on placing e-cigarettes on counters in retail stores. The Senate committee deleted that provision.
Advocates for the legislation hadn’t expected a unanimous vote of support, but they were surprised when the chair of the committee, Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison), voted against the bill.
Ayer explained later that she didn’t hear significant information about the hazard that secondhand vapors pose to individuals who might be in the vicinity of e-cigarette smokers. The purpose of the bill’s broad ban is to protect non-e-cigarette users.
Ayer noted, however, that she would have voted for the bill if her support had been necessary to move the legislation from her committee to the full Senate.
Harry Chen, the state’s health commissioner, has urged lawmakers to enact expanded restrictions on locations where e-cigarettes can be used because of their growing popularity with youth. According to the 2015 youth health survey in Vermont, 15 percent of high school students say they use e-cigarettes, compared with 11 percent who say they smoke, Chen had told the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. He added, “Adult use is also increasing.”
The bill should come before the full Senate next Wednesday.
Two other smoking-related bills from the House remain in limbo. One would impose a tax on e-cigarettes equivalent to the tax on tobacco. The other would raise the age when an individual could buy and smoke cigarettes from 18 to 21.
Both bills came to the Senate late in the session, leaving little time for senators to take testimony. Friday was the final day for meetings of Senate committees that are regularly scheduled for mornings — including the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. That's the panel that might have reviewed the age-change bill. The e-cigarette tax proposal could still be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee, which meets right up until adjournment.