AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday banning electronic cigarettes, or vaping devices, from school grounds in Maine.

The measure sponsored by state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, was previously approved by the Maine House of Representatives and now will go to Gov. Janet Mills. She will have 10 days to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without her signature.

Although some Maine school districts have policies that ban the use of the devices on school grounds by students or staff, there is no prohibition in state law.

“I’ve heard from students and teachers alike how concerned they are with the vaping epidemic in Maine schools,” Millett said in a statement following the vote. “We need to be doing all we can to ensure the health and well-being of our children. I’m so grateful this bill has received such strong support in the Legislature.”

Federal law already prohibits selling e-cigarettes to minors, but supporters of the bill noted that students can easily purchase e-cigarettes online or acquire them through other means.

The state legislation comes amid increasing evidence that links vaping to a flattening of teen smoking rates, which had previously been in steady decline. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data in February from a national survey of 20,000 middle and high school students last spring that found about 8 percent of high schoolers said they had recently smoked cigarettes in 2018, and about 2 percent of middle schoolers did. Those findings were about the same as in similar surveys in 2016 and 2017.

The survey also found that about 2 in 5 high school students who used a vaping or tobacco product used more than one kind, and that the most common combination was e-cigarettes and cigarettes. Also, about 28 percent of high school e-cigarette users said they vaped 20 or more days in the previous month – a nearly 40 percent jump from the previous year.

Smoking, the nation’s leading cause of preventable illness, is responsible for more than 480,000 U.S. deaths each year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans the sale of e-cigarettes and tobacco products to people under age 18.

E-cigarettes are generally considered better than cigarettes for adults who are already addicted to nicotine. But health officials have worried for years that electronic cigarettes could lead youths to switch to smoking traditional cigarettes.

Millett’s bill, L.D. 152, updates current state law, which prohibits tobacco use in elementary and secondary schools, to include the possession of an electronic smoking device. The prohibited devices include, but are not limited to, electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic hookahs or vape pens like the popular Juul device.

In her state budget address in February, Mills pointed out that her budget includes using $10 million from the state’s tobacco settlement fund to bolster smoking prevention and education for youth, including vaping.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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