MUSCATINE, Iowa — While electronic cigarettes and other flavored vapor products are on Iowa lawmakers' minds right now, they don't seem to be clouding too many people's thoughts in Muscatine.
House File 2019 creates new classifications for “alternative nicotine products” and “vapor products,” the former being those that contain nicotine and that would be banned for sale to people under the age of 18 in the state.
An e-cigarette — sometimes called a smokeless cigarette — uses an electronic system to heat a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor that the user inhales. Vapor products as defined in the bill do much the same, except they don’t contain the nicotine, but that has some lawmakers saying the bill doesn't go far enough.
“No one is against banning the nicotine products,” said state Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids in a Lee Des Moines Bureau article “But what the bill calls ‘vapor products’ have flavors like cherry and grape. It’s clearly aimed at kids.”
“They are separate items and we need to address that,” said Iowa Sen. Chris Brase, D-Muscatine. “There’s not been a whole lot of open discussion about it, but I do believe the e-cigarettes should be limited to adults only; I don’t think they should be sold to minors or targeted to minors. It's definitely a product we need to do research on.”
Midge Haller, owner of No More Butts Vapor Lounge in downtown Muscatine, already cards for the sale of the e-cigarette products in her store. Haller said she sells about 75 flavors but that doesn’t mean they’re targeted towards kids.
“I totally believe in [the bill.]," said Haller.
"It still has nicotine in it ... It’s still an addictive drug," she said of the e-cigarettes — but, she added, they're still safer than the real thing. "Cigarettes have a lot more bad stuff."
E-cigarettes are currently unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and according to 2012 studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), e-cigarette use among high school students has increased from 4.7 percent to 10 percent between 2011 and 2012. And if teens graduate to smoking actual cigarettes, they'll increase their risk of getting cancer, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the 2014 Surgeon General’s report.
“This is a serious concern because the overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain,” said the CDC in its study, adding that “in youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.”
A CDC public service announcement states that 5.6 million children will ultimately die early from smoking nicotine products.
Muscatine hasn’t seen too much of an issue with teens attempting to buy e-cigarettes or vapor products as both No More Butts and Smokin’ Joe's refuse to sell to minors. Brenda Berkhoudt, Smokin’ Joe's manager, said there has been a rise in e-cigarette smokers since last fall, but it’s a store policy to card everyone who appears 32 or younger.
Some downtown Muscatine restaurant owners said they haven't seen a lot of e-cigarette smokers trying to inhale inside. In 2008, Iowa passed the Smoke Free Air Act, which banned cigarette use in many public places, including businesses, and some public outdoor areas. But since the law was passed before e-cigs existed, the electronic cigarettes are not regulated. They are also exempt from tobacco taxes.
It hasn’t been a problem,” said Mike Kleist, owner of Boonie’s on the Avenue. “I’ve only seen a couple people with them.”
The Pearl Lounge’s owner, Sally Bryant says she also hasn’t seen many customers with e-cigarettes. “I guess I do allow it but we don’t see it much. If they were, I wouldn’t say anything. Maybe if everyone was doing it it would be an issue.”