DOVER — The Delaware Senate voted 13-7 Thursday to ban the use of electronic cigarettes inside public buildings such as restaurants and taverns.
However, the use of e-cigs will still be allowed in vape shops.
The bill, approved by the House last month, will now be sent to Gov. Jack Markell. His signature would add e-cigs to the list of items prohibited by the Clean Indoor Air Act which banned tobacco products from use in public buildings when it was passed in 2002.
The governor, a Democrat, has not expressed any opposition to the legislation.
The bill passed after about 40 minutes of debate, with senators narrowly voting down an amendment that would have allowed use of e-cigs in taprooms and taverns.
Unlike most controversial bills, the proposal did not fall along party lines. Despite numerous arguments presented by opponents since the bill was filed in March, lawmakers supported the side that viewed vaping as a public health issue.
The legislation passed the House 29-11 in May after an amendment exempting dedicated vape shops was introduced.
Opponents of the bill have argued there is not a large volume of research showing e-cigs are harmful and have also noted e-cigs can act as a smoking cessation device.
But others claim e-cigs can be harmful, especially to children and pregnant women.
In testimony Thursday, Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, cited studies claiming vapor produced by e-cigs can have a negative effect on those who breathe it in.
The devices contain nicotine, and while research varies in exactly how dangerous e-cigs are, it shows they do have a detrimental effect on a person’s health, she insisted.
Most of the debate centered around an amendment from Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, which would have exempted the approximately 90 taprooms in Delaware. Another amendment to allow customers to smoke in tobacco shops was stricken for going beyond the scope of the bill.
“I think it’s clear that the secondhand smoke coming from tobacco and cigarettes in particular and from vapors of e-cigarettes are two different items,” Sen. Ennis said.
Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, agreed. He said he thought the exemption should include other adult establishments.
“If I’m an adult, I can make the decision,” he said.
Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, a former smoker, protested, noting the secondhand smoke and influence of peers in a taproom could cause ex-smokers to cave.
“When I went out with my buddies to a bar and everybody was smoking, it was the toughest time. Toughest time to stick to it,” he complained.
While the Division of Public Health supported the legislation, one doctor who spoke on the floor did not. Joe Nitzkin, a physician and senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank, argued against the bill.
He said limiting e-cigs would make it harder for people to quit tobacco products and would lead to teenagers smoking cigarettes instead of their electronic equivalents.
“[It] will do more harm than good. It wll do nothing to protect bystanders from any risks,” he said.
Assertions presented by supporters of the amendment failed to convinced a majority of the chamber, as the proposal garnered 10 votes, one fewer than necessary.
With arguments exhausted, senators took a roll call and passed the bill.
Afterward, Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, one of the main sponsors, reflected on the vote.
“I think it’s another step in the right direction to protect the public’s health,” she said. “Any time that we can add a provision for clean indoor air in our state, I think it’s a good day for children and pregnant women, workers in doors.”