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As Electronic Cigarettes Boom, Lawmakers Re-valuate Ban

By Adam Pinsker, Multimedia Political Reporter, apinsker@ktuu.com
Published On: Jan 03 2014 08:05:06 PM AKST
Updated On: Jan 03 2014 06:37:00 PM AKST

As electronic cigarettes gain popularity in Anchorage, Senator Bill Wielechowski said he’s shelving a bill that would have banned e-cigarettes sales to minors.

ANCHORAGE -

State Sen. Bill Wielechowski said he is shelving a bill that would have banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

“There are already laws on the books to prevent the sale of nicotine products to children,” said Wielechowski, an East Anchorage Democrat.

The electronic cigarette industry continues to blossom in Anchorage. Matt Waggoner opened Fatboy Vapors at the corner of Old Seward and 36th Avenue in November, just one of a half-dozen e-cigarette outlets in town. He said he plans on opening more in the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks. 

 “There are multiple liquids that you can vaporize on, available in a hundred different flavors (and) multiple nicotine strengths,” said Waggoner.

Waggoner said the Food and Drug Administration has not made any conclusions as to whether electronic cigarettes help people quit smoking, but traditional smokers like Mike Champaign say it's made a difference in his life, more than any other smoking cessation device he's tried.

"I don't have a smoker's cough anymore if you will, other than the occasional kind of getting my lungs back,” he said. “I know it's not the best thing in the world. It would be great if I wasn't smoking anything."

Not everyone is as convinced e-cigarettes are the magic bullet for those trying kick the habit.

In one of his final acts before leaving office, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law banning e-cigarettes.

Closer to home, Palmer's smoking ordinance, which went into effect a year ago, also includes e-cigarettes.

Anchorage Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall said he doesn’t think the municipality’s smoking ban, passed in 2007, covers electronic cigarettes.

Four of the largest airlines serving Anchorage—Alaska, United, Ravn (formerly Era) and Pen Air—all ban the use of electronic cigarettes in-flight.

“We prohibit the use of electronic, simulated smoking materials on all flights,” United spokesperson Charles Hobart wrote in an email statement Friday.

Proponents of electronic cigarettes say there are only four chemicals in the devices, compared to hundreds of chemicals rolled into traditional cigarettes.   

"You can sell e-cigarettes without nicotine, and so there's been some research that shows that some of the products in the e-cigarettes are dangerous, potentially toxic. It's such a new product that we don't have our arms around whether it will hurt our kids or not,” said Wielechowski.

Wielechowski plans to meet with legislative staff and legal officials to determine if any future regulation is necessary.

"By 2018 there are actually studies that say electronic cigarettes will outsell analog, traditional cigarettes,” said Waggoner.

Senator Wielechowski said he’ll meet with Waggoner next week to discuss concerns about the electronic cigarette industry.