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Idaho House narrowly passes bill to regulate vape shops

Rep. Vito Barbieri, who owns a vape shop, was one of the bill's sharpest critics. He called vaping products an “excellent” alternative to smoking cigarettes.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette in Portland, Maine. Health officials investigating a nationwide outbreak of vaping-related illnesses have, for the first time, listed the vape brands that are most commonly linked to hospitalizations. Most of the nearly 2,300 people who has suffered lung damage were vaping liquids that contain THC, the high-inducing part of marijuana. In a report released Friday, Dec. 6 the government listed the THC-containing products that patients most often said they’d been using, noting that some patients vaped more than one. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

BOISE, Idaho — After over an hour of heated debate, the Idaho House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill regulating e-cigarettes and vape products the same as traditional tobacco.

HB 538, sponsored by Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, argued requiring vendors that sell vaping products and e-cigarettes be permitted through the state and inspected by the Department of Health and Welfare would ensure products aren’t sold to minors. Opponents to the bill said it would create unnecessary regulation, because it is already illegal for those under 18 to be possessing or using these products. Those in support won out with a vote of 38-32.

One of the sharpest critics of the legislation was Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who owns a vape shop. In his speech, he called vaping products an “excellent” alternative to smoking cigarettes and the harm from nicotine products comes from burning tobacco, like in a cigarette.

“Nicotine is addictive, but it’s not harmful in and of itself,” Barbieri said. “Vaping gets people off of smoking and they’re not the same thing.”

The trend of teenagers vaping has become a concern nationwide in the past year. The Food and Drug Administration calls the trend an “epidemic” and estimates 5.3 million teenagers are using e-cigarettes. According to a study published late last year, 28% of high schoolers and 11% of middle schoolers nationwide reported having vaped in the past month.

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The Center for Disease Control warns nicotine use is especially harmful for those under 18 because it can increase the chance of addiction to other drugs later and can damage the development of the brain. One of the most popular brands of vaping products, JUUL, uses pods that contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, according to public health nonprofit Truth Initiative.

Vaping products that contain THC was especially concerning for some legislators in border communities like Lewiston, located on the Washington border and close to Oregon, where marijuana can be purchased legally. A rash of vaping-related lung disease occurred around the country in the past year, which the CDC said is strongly linked to Vitamin E acetate used in vape products with THC.

“I think that what really started this was they’re finding the kids with THC (vapes) and they were the ones getting sick,” Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, said. “That’s really what got this going.” 

House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Megan Blanksma said she did not want children to be vaping, but thought the legislation was redundant because anyone under 18 is already banned from using the products.

“If what you’re looking for is to provide some sort of additional barrier between kids and these vape products, this is not the legislation that does that,” she said.

Several representatives argued strongly for the regulations, which they are necessary to keep the industry in check and keep these products away from children.

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, said the bill was necessary to provide an enforcement mechanism for the laws already on the books preventing minors from using them.

“Sometimes when your pants are drooping and you’ve got suspenders you need to put a belt on,” he said. “I think this is a belt. Have the moral courage to vote for this bill.”

RELATED: New Idaho program aims to help teens quit vaping

Rep. Robert Anderst: Y

Rep. Steve Berch: Y

Rep. Greg Chaney: N

Rep. Sue Chew: Y

Rep. Gary Collins: N

Rep. Brent Crane: N

Rep. Gayann DeMourdaunt: N

Rep. Jake Ellis: Y

Rep. John Gannon: Y

Rep. Brooke Green: Y

Rep. Steven Harris: N

Rep. James Holtzclaw: N

Rep. Megan Kiska: Y

Rep. Rob Mason: Y

Rep. John McCrostie: Y: 

Rep. Jason Monks: N

Rep. Mike Moyle: N

Rep. Lauren Necochea: Y

Rep. Tammy Nichols: N

Rep. Joe Palmer: N

Rep. Ilana Rubel: Y

Rep. Scott Syme: Y

Rep. John Vander Woude: N

Rep. Jarom Wagoner: Y

Rep. Melissa Wintrow: Y

Rep. Rick Youngblood: Y

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