DOVER — The Delaware House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would add electronic cigarettes to the 2002 Clean Indoor Air Act, thus prohibiting their use indoors.
House Bill 5, introduced by Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Edgemoor, treats e-cigs as cigarettes by banning usage inside public buildings, although an amendment passed with the bill exempts dedicated e-cig shops.
Users would be able to continue smoking in shops — defined as companies that make 80 percent of their revenue through the sale of vape devices — as long as the establishments are in self-contained buildings or have closed doors.
The amendment was introduced due to pressure from vape users, particularly those who own such businesses. A swarm of people crowded Legislative Hall last month to express their opinions during the bill’s committee hearing, with individuals on both sides of the debate providing testimony.
Vape stores have popped up throughout Delaware just in the past two years, and many users argue vaping helped them quit smoking. Testing products and trying out different flavors in stores are an integral part of vaping, buyers have claimed.
Opponents counter that the products contain harmful chemicals and can have an especially negative effect on children.
Rep. Heffernan said while she would have preferred the bill progress without the amendment, adding it was necessary to be fair to vape store owners.
Several representatives said in April’s Health and Human Development Committee a clause ensuring the bill did not hurt businesses would have to be a key component of the proposal. Some support that was provided Tuesday would have been withheld had the amendment not been approved.
The piece of legislation came about after much discussion and represents a compromise, she said. Two other proposed amendments were stricken for being redundant, and two additional options were rejected by representatives.
“It’s a great step forward for Delaware and for clean indoor air in Delaware,” Rep. Heffernan said of the bill’s passage.
Several representatives questioned the bill on the floor Tuesday, with debate centering on the economic impact of the proposal and the dangers of vapor.
Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, who sponsored a failed amendment that would have granted taverns and taphouses the right to allow vaping, questioned the potential health consequences posed by vaping. He repeatedly pressed Rep. Heffernan on comparisons between e-cigs and cigarettes.
Noting the bill is not intended to draw comparisons to tobacco products, she responded by stating she believes there is “irrefutable” evidence e-cigs are dangerous.
Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, argued in favor of the bill, noting the federal government has received a growing number of complaints about e-cigs. The product can lead to children moving on to tobacco, she said.
Rep. Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, expressed concerns about a negative economic impact, although supporters of the bill were confident such a situation would be avoided thanks to the amendment.
“Not only does it provide them an opportunity to continue their role in Delaware’s economy, I just think that it’s a reasonable thing to do when you have grown-ups using a product that’s legal and it’s in a very confined space,” said Rep. Bryon Short, D-Arden.
The bill is supported by organizations as diverse as the Department of Health and Social Services and the Delaware Restaurant Association.
A group of about 10 vape users and store owners watched in the chamber during the debate. Afterward, Brent Stock, owner of Dover’s Vape Nook, said while the amendment was welcome, he was disappointed the bill passed.
“Vaping is the most successful smoking cessation aid in the history of America and we want to be able to provide that to people who really want to quit smoking, so we have that ability now,” he said.
“But we really would hope that the bill would actually be killed because it actually is now putting a stigma to vaping with cigarette smoking and we don’t want people to associate the two,” he added.
House Bill 5 will move on to the Senate, where it will first be heard in committee.