PIERRE | Electronic cigarettes should be kept out of the hands of minors, a South Dakota legislative panel decided Monday.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that resemble traditional cigarettes. They heat a liquid solution, creating vapor that users inhale to get nicotine without the smoke of regular cigarettes.
"Today, South Dakota law is not clear on how these products can be sold or who can purchase them," said Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, the measure's main sponsor. "I think we can all agree that e-cigarettes are an adult product."
The bill, which next goes to the full Senate, would classify e-cigarettes containing nicotine as tobacco products that cannot be sold to or used by anyone younger than 18. Anyone selling electronic cigarettes to minors could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The State Affairs Committee voted 8-1 to pass the measure after Lederman said e-cigarettes sales have doubled nationally in the past year. An American Cancer Society study found that 10 percent of high school students have used the devices, he said.
"The vapor can be flavored like fruit and candy, which obviously has an appeal to youth," Lederman said.
Advocates of e-cigarettes said they can help smokers quit tobacco, but some health advocates contend the inhalers can get young people hooked on nicotine just like cigarettes.
"We need to make sure South Dakota is very clear that e-cigarettes should not be sold to children," Lederman said.
The bill would require merchants to place e-cigarettes behind a counter, and the product could be sold only in vending machines located in areas off limits to minors.
At least 27 states have passed legislation prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that aids state lawmakers
State Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said her agency helped rewrite Lederman's bill to mesh with existing law and keep e-cigarettes away from minors.
The bill also was supported by lobbyists for the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the South Dakota State Medical Association, South Dakota Voices for Children and the state attorney general's office.
Shawn Lyons, director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, said many retailers already refuse to sell e-cigarettes to minors. He said classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products means regulations will be the same statewide.