Indiana would require stores to have a license to sell electronic cigarettes and would tax the battery-powered devices like traditional tobacco products under a bill a state lawmaker said he'll sponsor in the legislative session that starts Tuesday.
State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said his bill is aimed at protecting Indiana's youth from e-cigarettes and the prospect that it could lead them to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
His bill also would add e-cigarettes to Indiana's statewide smoking ban and require containers holding the nicotine-infused liquid that is vaporized in the smoking process have child-resistant packaging to prevent accidental poisonings.
Clere said much remains unknown about the health risks posed by e-cigarettes — which don't have the same chemicals and tar found in regular cigarettes — and he noted the surge nationwide of young people using e-cigarettes, which are sold in "vape shops."
"These shops are springing up all over the state and flying under the radar," he said during a Statehouse news conference.
E-cigarettes are often described as a less dangerous alternative than regular cigarettes for regular smokers who can't or don't want to kick the habit.
Indiana law currently prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18, but Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the federal government hasn't done enough to regulate them.
"Let's all be clear — e-cigarettes are a new drug-delivery device," Zoeller said, noting that they can also reportedly be used to smoke a liquid form of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — and other illegal drugs.
In August, he joined 28 other attorneys general in urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to adopt new measures to protect minors from e-cigarettes. Their joint letter to the FDA came four months after the agency proposed regulations that include banning sales to minors and requiring health warning labels.
The federal government's annual drug use survey, released last month, showed that e-cigarettes have surpassed traditional smoking in popularity among teens and that use rose with age — with 17 percent of high school seniors reporting using e-cigarettes.
Tobacco Free Indiana spokeswoman Brianna Herndon said the group supports the legislation and said if it passes the measure would help prevent youths from entering "a pathway to a life of addiction." She noted that the liquid containers used in e-cigarettes come in myriad flavors, including cotton candy, bubble gum and fruit flavors that appeal to children.
"These are the kinds of flavors that kids like to eat, and I think everyone can agree that e-cigarettes have no business being in the hands of minors," Herndon said.
Clere said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, will co-sponsor his bill and state Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, will sponsor companion legislation in that chamber.
The provision to require stores to be licensed would allow staffers from the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission to check whom the stores are selling e-cigarettes to — just as they currently can at stores that sell traditional cigarettes, Clere said.
He also noted taxing e-cigarettes like traditional tobacco products would boost e-cigarettes' wholesale price in Indiana by 24 percent.
The Legislative Services Agency is currently calculating how much new revenue taxing e-cigarettes would generate, and Clere said the measure would put that money toward Indiana's tobacco cessation programs.