Debates e-cigarette safety

Some Vermont lawmakers worry about a spike in e-cigarette use in Vermont and they’re pushing for more regulation. But will new rules and higher taxes get people back on tobacco?

“I was a smoker since I was 21-years-old,” Tim Rumbinas said.

Rumbinas remembers all too well the night he got hooked on smokes.

“One night I was cramming for exams, somebody gave me a cigarette in college and I was never able to break the habit,” said Rumbinas.

He tried desperately to quit for 30 years.

“I was sitting there smoking like a diesel and I said I’ve got to stop this,” said Rumbinas.

Nicotine patches, gum, even prescription medications: Nothing worked, until he started using electronic cigarettes.

“It’s the only thing that’s been effective for me. I do not feel any desire to smoke cigarettes or burning tobacco,” said Rumbinas.

He says it works because it has a similar feel to smoking.

He buys his e-cigarette supplies at NEK Vapor. They are battery-operated and rechargeable nicotine inhalers and liquid nicotine solutions and flavors that are heated and turned into vapor.

Dennis Steele opened the Lyndonville business a year ago.

“People smoking 40-50 years are looking for ways to get off the combustible cigarettes and they are coming here to do that,” said Steele.

He’s seen a steady increase in customers.

“If you are going to smoke, you might as well vape. You probably shouldn’t do either one, but if you are going to smoke, you might as well be vaping,” said Steele.

“If you are trying to quit smoking, if that’s the reason you are using e-cigarettes, there are much more effective ways to do it,” said Rhonda Williams of the Vermont Department of Health.

The Health Department says e-cigarettes are not safe alternatives to tobacco and points to studies showing e-cigarettes can contain cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals and varying concentrations of nicotine. Right now, they’re not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

“They are not safe for inhaling,” said Williams.

The FDA may not be regulating e-cigarettes yet, so some Vermont lawmakers here in Montpelier say they will. Several bills are being proposed this legislative session.

“I think it should be a huge public health concern,” said Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset.

Komline has become the banner carrier for the anti-e-cigarettes movement at the Vermont Statehouse. She and other lawmakers want them banned in public spaces and state buildings, want restrictions on advertising and store displays, and want to reduce the number of flavors sold in Vermont to just plain and menthol. Right now there are more than 7,000 e-cigarette flavors from maple to gin and tonic.

“There are toxins in the vapor as well and we are just learning about this, so it needs to be regulated,” said Komline.

And taxed, she says. Right now, since they are not tobacco products, e-cigarettes are only subject to a 6 percent sales tax.

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