New Mexico House approves ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors; bill now goes to Senate for consideration with a week left in Legislature's 30-day session

SANTA FE, New Mexico , February 14, 2014 () – New Mexico would join more than 20 states in banning sales of e-cigarettes to minors under legislation unanimously approved Thursday by the House.

The measure would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18, just as minors are restricted from buying cigarettes made of tobacco.

The bill goes to the Senate for consideration with a week left in the Legislature's 30-day session. Gov. Susana Martinez's administration backs the proposed ban.

Battery-powered e-cigarettes heat a liquid solution, usually containing nicotine, to create vapor that users inhale.

Supporters contend the proposed ban is needed because e-cigarettes are growing in popularity and children may consider them a safer alternative to tobacco. Although the nicotine used in the devices is addictive, health officials have said the risks of inhaling nicotine remain unclear.

During brief House debate, Rep. Paul Bandy, an Aztec Republican, displayed two e-cigarettes to his colleagues.

Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat, said lawmakers needed to approve the legislation this year because there's "harm being done to children" from the availability of e-cigarettes.

But Chasey said the Legislature must address other issues in the future, including whether to require e-cigarettes to carry a label indicating that they contain nicotine.

Also unresolved is whether the federal Food and Drug Administration will regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Without that regulation, manufacturers can advertise while regular cigarette ads are banned.

Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, an Albuquerque Democrat, expressed concern the legislation may too narrowly define an e-cigarette device, creating "some giant loopholes for big tobacco to drive trucks through."

Tobacco companies are moving into the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes, and that lawmakers must close all possible loopholes in restricting e-cigarettes, Thomson said.

"Every time it seems like a body makes a law regarding tobacco products, big tobacco finds a way around that. I'm really concerned about that," she said.

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