AUGUSTA — An effort to place the same restrictions on electronic cigarettes that exist for tobacco cigarettes in Maine cleared the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on a 6-5, party-line vote Friday.

With Democrats supporting LD 1108 and Republicans opposing it, the bill’s prospects in the full Legislature appear questionable.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that use a small heating element to vaporize liquid nicotine, which is inhaled by the user.

Supporters of the bill, which prohibits so-called “vaping” in public places where smoking is banned, including bars and restaurants, said the dangers of the exhaled secondhand fumes from those who use e-cigarettes are not fully known. They also argued that vaping mimics the behavior of smoking a regular cigarette and allowing it where cigarettes are banned sends the wrong message to youths about the use of tobacco and alternative nicotine delivery devices.

In an alternative proposal, opponents of banning vaping in the same places smoking is banned did vote to ban the practice in schools, day care centers and hospitals.

“I guess I kind of look at this as both a local control and a private-property issue,” said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the committee’s Senate chairman. “I haven’t seen the burden of proof on the harms of secondhand effects of this, sufficient for me to think that a complete ban on these products in areas where traditionally cigarettes are banned would be appropriate.”

But those supporting the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the House Majority Leader, said they would rather be safe than sorry.

McCabe said the dangers of smoking tobacco were once relatively unknown, as well. 

“It’s interesting when you look at what some of these products contain,” McCabe said. “I have a 6- and a 9-year-old and it’s pretty easy for me, if I can keep them away from this, while we are still waiting for the science, I’m much more comfortable with that.”

McCabe said if it turns out the secondhand vapors from e-cigarettes are harmless, the law could be repealed in the future.

Other supporters of the bill, including a representative from the American Cancer Society, said studies have shown the vapor from e-cigarettes does contain several substances known to cause cancer.

Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, who is a medical doctor, said removing cigarettes and the related dangers from public spaces in Maine was a long-fought battle. Allowing something that looks very much like smoking seemed to be sending the wrong message, she said.

She said using an e-cigarette “mimics the personal experience and the public performance of smoking. Everything about it is like the experience of smoking and bringing that back into the public realm, I think is a big mistake, for children to see people putting things in their mouths and the whole ritual of the smoking thing.”

The bill goes next to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

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