The Alaska Senate is nearing a vote on a measure to make all vaping illegal for anyone younger than 19 years old.
Senate Bill 15, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, was approved by the Senate Finance Committee last week and is expected to advance to a vote of the full Senate this week.
Existing state law already prohibits those under 19 from buying or otherwise acquiring e-cigarettes or vape pens if they contain nicotine. Stevens’ bill aims to expand that prohibition to all electronic cigarettes, not just those that use nicotine.
“Basically what this bill is about is protecting our children, our youth from becoming addicted to nicotine and from adopting unhealthy habits,” Stevens told the finance committee on Feb. 28.
E-cigarettes and vaporizers heat minute amounts of liquid to create an aerosol vapor and were designed to create a feel similar to smoking a traditional cigarette but one that delivers nicotine with fewer toxic byproducts.
While many liquids used in e-cigarettes and vaporizers contain nicotine, not all do. Some merely include flavorings designed to taste like cotton candy or birthday cake, to name two of many possibilities.
In support of his bill, Stevens said he believes non-nicotine e-cigarettes and vaporizers are a gateway to smoking in later life.
“It is also intuitive that vaping, like cigarette smoking, is inherently habit-forming,” Stevens wrote in a message accompanying his bill. “By continuing to not take action against this new trend, we send the message to our youth that these products are safe and appropriate to use.”
Stevens said in his letter that “there has been an explosion of several hundreds of electronic smoking device components and chemical vapor products flooding the market to meet the demand of young consumers wanting to be ‘cool.’”
Figures from the state of Alaska support that argument. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the state, 18 percent of Alaska youths have used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. That’s a higher proportion than the percentage of children who have smoked (11 percent) in the same period.
Stevens’ bill is likely to pass the Senate by a significant margin. It has been cosponsored by 11 other lawmakers, including one Democrat.
Opposition to the measure, voiced in public testimony held earlier this month, has come from retailers who say adequate measures are already in place to keep children from accessing nicotine.
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