LINCOLN — Bring on the ban, but, please, no tobacco tax on electronic cigarettes.
That was the message delivered Friday by retailers of so-called e-cigs to members of a Nebraska state legislative committee.
Lobbyists for the grocery and convenience store industries, along with several independent store owners, said they're fine with a ban on selling e-cigs to minors. But they also told members of the Legislature's General Affairs Committee they would oppose classifying e-cigs as tobacco products and taxing them like conventional cigarettes.
State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, chairman of the committee, said he will most likely submit a bill during the next session that would ban e-cigs for people under 18. The Legislature will begin its 60-day session on Jan. 8.
Karpisek tried to assure the retailers he has no interest in taxing e-cigs as tobacco.
The battery-powered devices allow users to inhale vaporized, flavored nicotine. Proponents call them safer alternatives to tobacco cigarettes, although public health agencies say no scientific studies support such claims.
While e-cigs don't produce tar, ash and other toxic chemicals associated with cigarettes, they deliver nicotine. And they contain additional substances to add flavor and aroma to the vapor.
“The possibility certainly exists that they could cause more harm because they might seem less dangerous,” said David Holmquist of Omaha, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society.
E-cigarette use among minors is rapidly growing, according of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last month, the agency said about 10 percent of United States middle school and high school students reported using e-cigs in 2012. That percentage doubled when compared to 2011.
Officials with the CDC expressed concern that students were developing nicotine addictions by using the devices just as they would by smoking.
Overall sales of e-cigs could approach $2 billion this year, according to some published reports.
The inhalers are largely unregulated, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering future regulations.
Sean George, owner of Husker E-Cigs in Omaha, said he and most other reputable retailers card younger-looking customers to make sure they're at least 18.
Most of his customers, George said, are people looking for a safer alternative to smoking.