Heffernan Bill Would Extend Clean Indoor Air Act to E-Cigarettes

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

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan and Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, House Bill 5 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 emissions contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals. Rep. Heffernan noted that while some tout e-cigarettes as safer than regular cigarettes and claim what is exhaled is simply water vapor, recently published research has shown this to not be true. The devices are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Although e-cigarettes don’t give off the same thick cloud of smoke as regular tobacco products, it is becoming increasingly clear that these devices do not just give off harmless water vapor. They contain carcinogens and are emitting nicotine, chromium and nickel,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South, who is an environmental toxicologist. “It took years for the dangers of secondhand smoke to be fully realized. We should not take people’s health for granted, especially as we collect more data about the harm e-cigarettes could cause people.”

According to news reports, 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.

In January, the California Department of Public Health declared e-cigarettes a public health threat, citing new data on the risks presented by e-cigarettes: the vapor alone contains at least 10 toxic chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects; rising e-cigarette use among teenagers, which surpassed traditional cigarette use in 2014; and an increased number of calls to California poison control centers related to e-cigarettes. Health departments in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee have issued warnings similar to California’s report.

Three states – North Dakota, Utah and New Jersey – currently ban smoking e-cigarettes indoors. More than a dozen other 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.

“While there’s more to learn about the potential health effects of second-hand vapor from e-cigarettes, Delawareans have a right to be protected today,” said Sen. Blevins, D-Elsmere. “When we passed the Clean Indoor Air Act 12 years ago, we made a promise to Delawareans that they’d be able to breathe clean air at their workplace, at their favorite restaurant, and as they went about their daily lives. We cannot allow this new technology to undo that pact.”

The bipartisan House Bill 5 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.

The legislation also is endorsed by the Delaware Restaurant Association, which represents hundreds of restaurant owners and operators throughout the state.

“Restaurant managers, servers and customers have grown accustomed to a smoke-free environment over the past decade,” said Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association. “There is often confusion when confronted with a patron who wants to use an e-cigarette in a restaurant. Clarification of the law would prevent any questions and the possibility of unintended negative uncertainty between customers and/or management.”

Delaware’s Clean Indoor Air Act 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.

“Delawareans have come to appreciate the protections provided by the Clean Indoor Air Act, and those protections should include the protection from the toxic emissions produced by e-cigarettes,” said George Meldrum, with Nemours Delaware Valley Government Affairs. “Nemours supports Rep. Heffernan’s work to expand the reach of the Clean Indoor Air Act and look forward to working together to protect the health of Delaware’s children.”

Last session, the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. At least 41 states prohibit minors from buying e-cigarettes.