Tobacco bill passes senate, with mixed reviews

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, April 9, 2016 9:07pm
  • News

The Alaska Senate passed Senate Bill 1, the “Take it Outside Act,” sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, the bill that would restrict smoking and the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace statewide, and is now making its way through the House of Representatives.

The bill’s advocates are taking the passage as a good sign. Others see it as a potential risk to their businesses.

“The strong show of support for the bill in the Senate lets the House know that it is a priority for this session,” said Emily Nenon, Alaska government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, one of a handful of organizations, including the Alaska’s chapter of the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the Alaska Native Health Board, pushing to move the legislation forward.

In a Cancer Action Network survey conducted with 800 registered votes between Dec. 30, 2015, and Jan. 7, 2016, 69 percent of those surveyed would strongly or somewhat favor a comprehensive statewide smoking law. Of those surveyed, 72 percent would strongly or somewhat favor that law to include the use of e-cigarettes. All responses in favor of implementing more restrictive tobacco-related laws have grown since the 2012 survey.

Steven Mapes, owner of Mapes Vapes in Soldotna, said the bill, which includes e-cigarette use in its definition of smoking, would likely put him out of business, and reduce the options for those looking to quit smoking.

“It’s like saying gasoline and water are both liquids so don’t drink the water because it is liquid like gasoline,” Mapes said.

Mapes said that the product he sells helped him kick what most people who vape believe is a bad and dangerous habit. He said he tallies every customer who comes in to his shop for a starter kit to help them quit smoking.

“I have got 89 scars chopped in the counter top of my display case,” Mapes said. “That’s 89 people that I have helped get off of tobacco or that this store has helped people get off of tobacco.”

For Mapes, the vapes provide a way to get the fix that he wanted, which is the “ritual taking something out of my pocket and putting it up my mouth and taking a puff.”

Mapes pointed to the 2015 Public Health England-commissioned study, “E-cigarettes: an evidence update,” which found some effectiveness in adults using vapes to quit smoking, and that the product may not be as harmful as made out in other studies.

According to the study, “While vaping may not be 100 percent safe, most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals which are present pose limited danger. It has been previously estimated that EC (e-cigarettes) are around 95 percent safer than smoking. This appears to remain a reasonable estimate.”

Mapes said the risk to his business is that customers will no longer be able to come in and try out his products, and will likely move to online purchases, which will cost half as much if SB 133, or its House companion legislation also passes this session. Under SB 1, smoking, including e-cigarette use, would be allowed only in freestanding tobacco or e-cigarette shops, but prohibited in tobacco or e-cigarette businesses attached to another building or residence. SB 133 increases the tax on tobacco products to 100 percent of the wholesale cost, and includes electronic smoking devices.

The “Take it Outside Act” was first introduced in 2014 and re-introduced last year, during the current two-year legislative session, Nenon said. It passed the Senate on March 30, with a 15-5 vote, she said.

It would ban the use of tobacco products in all enclosed spaces including on marine vessels operating as a shore-based fisheries business, entertainment venues, residences used for paid child care, retail businesses, airports, bus shelters, and educational facilities among many others, according to the bill. It also places restrictions on zones surrounding workspaces.

Smoking would be prohibited at public or private areas outdoors that are primarily designated for children to play, outdoor arenas, within 10 feet of a bar or restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages, among others, according to the bill. It will require business owners to adopt appropriate signage, remove all ashtrays, and that all members of the public have continued access to related education materials.

Its companion legislation, House Bill 328, sponsored by Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, passed its first House committee, the Health and Social Services Committee, on March 31, Nenon said.

“The House and Senate bills will likely meet up in committee as soon as the Senate bill is assigned to House committees,” Nenon said. “From that point, it is likely that Senate bill will be amended to match the current House version, and then it will be the Senate bill that continues through the House process.”

The next committee hearing is scheduled for the week of April 10, Nenon said. After the bill passes the House, it will be sent back to the Senate for approval of any revisions, she said.

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