Bill would add e-cigarettes to indoor smoking ban


DOVER – Delaware’s second-in-the-nation law prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places would expand to include electronic cigarettes under legislation filed today in the House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Reps. Debra Heffernan, Mike Barbieri, Deborah Hudson and Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, House Bill 309 would add electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or digital cigarettes, to Delaware’s 2002 Clean Indoor Air Act, which effectively banned smoking in restaurants, bars and other indoor public places throughout the state. At the time, only California had a similar law in place, but today, 36 states have some form of a smoking ban for public places.

An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats a cartridge of liquid, producing a mist that can be inhaled by the user. The water-based vapor may contain nicotine and other chemicals. Rep. Heffernan noted that while some tout e-cigarettes as safer than regular cigarettes and claim the vapor exhaled is simply water, the devices are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is in the process of reviewing possible limitations on the sale of e-cigarettes.

“Although e-cigarettes don’t give off the same thick cloud of smoke as regular tobacco products, the jury is still out on whether these devices are safer or if there are any adverse effects from using them in public places,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “It took years for the dangers of secondhand smoke to be fully realized. We should not take people’s health for granted, especially as more data starts to mount about the potential harm e-cigarettes could cause people.”

According to a recent Reuters news report, dozens of complaints about e-cigarettes – from burns and nicotine toxicity to respiratory and cardiovascular problems – were filed with the FDA in the last year alone. The article also notes federal data indicating a dramatic rise in the use of e-cigarettes nationwide.

One person who contacted the FDA described symptoms of dizziness and “intense heartbeat” after inhaling e-cigarette vapors produced by a customer at a nearby table in a restaurant, the article noted. A mother told the FDA that her 4-year-old developed a raspy voice after her husband began smoking e-cigarettes in the car and at home.

Three states – North Dakota, Utah and New Jersey – currently ban smoking e-cigarettes indoors. Nine states have prohibited their use in public buildings such as schools, universities or corrections facilities, or on public transportation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About a dozen bills have been introduced this year, with more expected.

Just last week the town of Bethany Beach approved a measure adding e-cigarettes to its smoking ban for public beaches, parks and the boardwalk.

“Until we know that the byproducts of e-cigarettes do not have an adverse impact on the health of those sharing the air with their users, we need to remain on the side of protecting public health,” said co-sponsor Rep. Michael Barbieri, D-Christiana. “The Clean Indoor Air Act was established to shield Delawareans from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, and to me this is a logical evolution of that goal. 

House Bill 309 would add a definition of “electronic cigarette” to existing law that would cover all types of e-cigarettes and other vaporization devices. The bill would also redefine “smoking” to include the use of e-cigarettes. The list of locations and settings in which the Clean Indoor Air Act currently applies would remain the same.

In addition to the state Division of Public Health, the legislation also is endorsed by the Delaware Restaurant Association, which represents hundreds of restaurant owners and operators throughout the state.

The Clean Indoor Air Act, sponsored in the House by Rep. Deborah Hudson, overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly in 2002 and was signed by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. The Division of Public Health, charged with implementing the law and its associated regulations, maintains a hotline to collect public reports of noncompliance.

“It’s been 12 years since we passed this law, and today I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks banning smoking indoors was a bad idea,” said Rep. Hudson, R-Fairthorne. “Today, Delawareans expect to be able to work, dine and socialize in environments where they won’t be forced to breathe harmful substances. There is an expectation that people who choose to smoke tobacco, or inhale vapors from e-cigarettes, do so in places where they will not put others at risk.”

Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst said HB 309 represents the evolution of a law that has made a difference in the lives of countless Delawareans and visitors to the state.

“I’m proud that Delaware was an early adopter of a comprehensive plan to ban smoking indoors, and I’m hopeful that we will be among the first to revise our law in response to the proliferation of e-cigarettes,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “Times and technology may change, but the public health benefits of the Clean Indoor Air Act must be preserved.”

Earlier this month, the House unanimously passed legislation that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. House Bill 241 currently awaits action in the Senate. At least 27 other states already prohibit minors from buying e-cigarettes.