Vt. debates e-cigarette safety, Part 3 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. debates e-cigarette safety, Part 3

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LYNDONVILLE, Vt. - The safety of e-cigarettes is debatable. The health department says they're bad for you. Proponents of the devices argue they're better than tobacco. There are studies supporting both claims. Why retailers and manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the state is playing a dangerous game.

"It's anecdotal evidence but I'm on the front lines," said Dennis Steele of NEK Vapor.

Steele says he's seen countless customers quit smoking thanks to e-cigarettes and other nicotine inhalers he sells at his Lyndonville shop, NEK Vapor.

"Adults like flavoring. It doesn't make sense doing that," said Steele.

He worries proposed flavor bans and higher taxes will hurt business and increase smoking rates in Vermont.

"In my opinion it would be a big mistake. In my opinion they should subsidize what we are doing or just leave us alone and let us help people get off the analog or combustible cigarettes," said Steele.

"It says carry it like you're comfortable. You wouldn't think this to be an e-cigarette advertisement," said Lee Loyer of Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.

E-cigarette sales nationwide are expected to top $10 billion this year. Three of the largest manufacturers are also big tobacco companies.

"Tobacco companies had to come out with some new great idea on how to make their millions," said Loyer.

Loyer is in charge of smoking cessation programs at the hospital in St. Johnsbury. She's pushing for changes in how big tobacco market's its new tobacco-free products. She wants to keep them out of the hands of kids.

Loyer: You will see e-cigarettes by the candy. You will see e-cigarettes at eye level. They come in pipes and pens and cigars and all different shapes and sizes. If kids use these because they are cool, eventually they'll smoke cigarettes as well.

Reporter Darren Perron: Is that the fear?

Loyer: Yeah.

The health department fears that, too.

"Especially for the developing brain before age 25, to keep it away from substances including those in e-cigarettes is critical," said Rhonda Williams of the Vermont Health Department.

Williams says chemicals in e-cigarettes and flavors could be dangerous. There's now a push to limit marketing and store displays.

"We are working hard to reduce access to e-cigarettes in convenience stores, in other retailers," said Williams.

But proponents of e-cigarettes argue they are smoking cessation tools and say those efforts to restrict them will drive people back to smokes. Vape shops point to studies that show e-cigarettes are not as bad as traditional cigarettes.

"But if you're comparing it to a cigarette, what's inside of a cigarette? It's 5,000 to 10,000 chemicals," said Steele.

The American Vaping Association sent a statement to WCAX that said: "With real world studies showing that vapor products help adult smokers quit, adding sin taxes on the sale of these products will cost lives."

There's also a proposal in Montpelier to make it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy e-cigarettes in Vermont. Opponents say that will drive 18- to 20-year-olds back to tobacco. And argue if they're old enough to vote and serve in the military, they should be allowed to use e-cigarettes.

"We believe that tax and regulatory policy should recognize the difference between tobacco and e-cigarettes," said Andrew MacLean, Reynolds American lobbyist.

Right now, e-cigarettes are not federally regulated.

Big tobacco lobbyists like MacLean are trying to convince lawmakers, like Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, that state regulations will do more harm than good. She's not buying it.

"We've come so far and to have the tobacco companies beating us at this point, I am not satisfied with that," said Komline.

E-cigarette users also argue they are more productive at work because they're no longer taking breaks outside to smoke butts. A quick puff of vapor and they get back to work.

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Vt. debates e-cigarette safety, Part 1
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