HELENA, Mont. – Montana lawmakers considered for the first time Monday whether to regulate electronic cigarettes.
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Sen. Diane Sands brought the bill before the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee on behalf of the Montana attorney general's office.
Senate Bill 66 would include e-cigarettes, related electronic paraphernalia and nicotine under the state's definition of "tobacco products" that people under the age of 18 cannot legally access.
Sands, a Democrat from Missoula, and Jon Bennion, deputy attorney general, said at least 40 other states have banned youth access to e-cigarettes.
A dozen people representing various vaporizer retailers in Montana spoke against the bill, saying the definition of e-cigarettes as tobacco products is misleading.
"We cannot call it tobacco because it has no tobacco in it; we cannot call it smoking because there is no combustion," opponent Lance Strever, an independent online reviewer of vaporizers, said of electronic cigarettes. "We cannot fully regulate this — we cannot define it at this point — until we do more research."
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While some opponents argued that e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking tobacco cigarettes, Bennion called the electronic devices a "gateway" into other drug activities.
"They offer nothing for minors other than allure into a particular habit that could draw them into more harmful behaviors," Bennion said.
Despite their contestation, opponents agreed with supporters of the bill that the alternative nicotine delivery devices should not be available to minors.
Proponents insisted that the measure would carry with it no new taxes on e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia. If enacted, vendors of e-cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookahs and vaporizers — regardless of selling tobacco — would need to get a $5 license from the Department of Revenue to sell tobacco products.
Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, said after the hearing that she expected the licensing stipulation to influence whether the bill passes.
Sen. Sharon Stewart Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, questioned whether illegalizing nicotine for minors would affect the collection or use of other plants that contain nicotine, including nightshade, a plant found in Montana forests.
"They're trying to muddy the issue by saying 'tobacco and nicotine,' but people don't understand they're one in the same," Stewart Peregoy told The Associated Press after the hearing.
Bennion said the attorney's office "definitely" wants to retain the word "nicotine" in the bill's language because the addictive substance is found in many of the e-liquids sold alongside e-cigarettes.