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Minnesota Resists Vaping Ban Trend

Minnesota legislators pulled an e-cigarette bill from the legislative agenda, when state governor Mark Dayton came out in opposition to a ban on public vaping.

This is a striking reversal of a trend in American municipalities and states to extend public smoking bans to include a ban on electronic cigarette use as well.

The bill's provisions banning sale of e-cigs to minors will remain on the agenda. Only the public use ban is being removed.

Dayton's position stands in contrast to that of the state's Health Commissioner, Ed Ehlinger, who testified last Monday before a Senate committee hearing, favoring the ban. Ehlinger cited the usual fears of "reglamorizing smoking" and creating a gateway to cigarette smoking, as usual providing no evidence that these fears are justified. Dayton stated his belief that there is not yet enough information to conclude that e-cigarette vapor poses dangers comparable to those of secondhand smoke.

The governor seems to feel that electronic cigarettes should be held innocent until proven guilty, instead of the other way around, as some regulators and anti-smoking activists seem to feel. A Health Department spokesperson claimed that Dayton and Ehlinger have been aware that their positions differ on this matter.

“I do not require my commissioners to agree with me on every issue, and I specifically gave Commissioner Ehlinger my approval to take, as the Commissioner of Health, the position he believes is right,” said the second-term, Democratic governor.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, a Democrat from Minneapolis, took a stance in line with the Governor's position. “I don’t know this is the year to... include e-cigarettes in the entire ‘Freedom to Breathe Act'," he said. “I don’t know that the issue is ripe enough now, if we have sufficient information to understand all the implications of it.”

The bill will allow state offices the right to restrict e-cigarette use in their facilities, but will give businesses the opportunity to make their own decisions on the matter. In committee on Monday, the indoor air provision of the bill passed narrowly, but the bill's sponsor, Kathy Sheran, plans to continue advocating the measure, arguing that if e-cigarettes are harmful to children, they must be harmful to adults as well.

Senator Sheran has apparently not read the research studies showing nicotine to be potentially harmful to adolescent brain development but not to users of other ages. Senator Jim Metzen, a Democrat from south St. Paul, chimed in that it is a good idea to “capitulate a little bit to the governor’s wishes and keep the e-cigarette bill alive.” Says Dayton, "we came down pretty hard on smokers last session [by raising taxes on cigarettes], that’s probably enough for this biennium.”