WASHINGTON -- One Maryland lawmaker wants to expand bans on smoking in bars and restaurants to electronic cigarettes, commonly referred to as "e-cigarettes."
Del. Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery County, claims that her bill, HB 1291, would not ban the personal and private use of e-cigarettes by adults, but would simply extend the same restrictions on smoking to e-cigarettes.
When Miller introduced her bill to a House panel, Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist for tobacco and candy wholesalers, disagreed with her sharply.
"I can't believe they come in here and say it's not a ban," Bereano said.
"It says where current law does not allow the use of cigarettes, you can't use an e-cigarette! To me that's a ban," Bereano told the members of the House Economic Matters Committee.
Miller says that while the e-cigarettes generate vapors instead of smoke, there are too many unknowns about whether the vapor is safe for the user or bystanders.
"It's like the wild, wild west out there," Miller told the House panel, citing the lack of oversight over the manufacture of the e-cigarettes and the liquid cartridges that generate vapor.
Bereano dismissed the concerns around e-cigarettes as fear mongering.
"This is a Chicken Little bill! The sky's falling," he said.
He told lawmakers they have a duty to legislate based on facts. And when it comes to the health effects of e-cigarettes, Bereano said, "as legislators, this committee always acts on facts and solid, objective information. And you have none of that because none exists!"
Bereano noted that the University of Maryland College Park has received a $19 million grant to examine the effects of e-cigarettes and tobacco products, and urged the committee to wait until that study is complete before taking any action.
Dr. Donald Shell, director of the Cancer and Chronic Disease Bureau of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said there are a number of studies about the dangers of e-cigarettes, but the conclusions aren't clear.
"You'll find literature state many different things, but right now there are many different reports, and so we're eagerly watching the literature," Shell says.
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