By Emma Fidel, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) – Banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to kids may seem like a no-brainer, yet Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and a number of health advocacy groups oppose legislation that does just that. They say it doesn’t go far enough.

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Players on both sides of the state’s e-cigarette debate agree that the nicotine-dispensing devices should be kept away from minors, but opinions differ when it comes to regulating the relatively unstudied vaporizers.

Tobacco companies support two bipartisan Senate bills prohibiting the sale and use of e-cigarettes and other devices that deliver nicotine if the buyer is younger than 18 years old. Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, said he is sponsoring the legislation because it’s “outrageous” that a minor can legally buy and use a highly addictive product. The bills unanimously passed the Senate Thursday.

But Snyder’s administration and health advocates say the bills would give e-cigarettes a “special status” and protect them from standard tobacco regulations. They want e-cigarettes to be treated like traditional cigarettes, not only in regards to minors, but taxes and public use laws as well. Such regulations would ban e-cigarette use in workplaces or restaurants, a restriction that’s currently left up to individual businesses.

“The appropriate thing to do in Michigan now is to act to help protect the population against the potential health risks of e-cigarettes, about which we know very little,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive for the Community Health Department.

Electronic cigarettes are cylindrical battery-powered devices that heat a liquid to produce vapor. While the liquid often includes nicotine, which can be derived from tobacco, e-cigarettes have not been officially designated as tobacco products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates cigarettes and smokeless tobacco and has said it intends to propose changes to its authority to regulate e-cigarettes, too.

Twenty-seven states ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those state laws are similar to the Senate legislation.

Opponents are countering with a House bill that would treat e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

Rep. Gail Haines, R-Lake Angelus, introduced the bill Wednesday after working with the administration and health groups such as the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association. She declined to comment before the bill was assigned to a committee.

Anderson said an effort to designate e-cigarettes as tobacco products would fail ahead of the FDA’s decision.

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“Most of us would prefer for the FDA to make the decision, and they are going to do it probably sometime this year, but I don’t want to wait,” bill sponsor Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said. “I want to stop the sale to children now, immediately.”

E-cigarettes are often produced by the same parent companies as traditional cigarettes and have grown increasingly popular over the past few years. U.S. middle and high school students’ use of e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in September. The share of high school students who had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days increased from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent in the survey. More than 1.78 million middle and high school students tried e-cigarettes in 2012.

“As I read to a fourth grade last week, one of the children said, `My friends and I bought some and we played with them,”‘ Jones said on the Senate floor.

Mark Bilger, 18, asked his mother to contact Anderson about concerns over e-cigarettes in September after studying them for his debate club. Bilger, a senior at Detroit Catholic Central High School, said he noticed e-cigarettes were “becoming a real problem in my school” and that students occasionally use them in class “when the teacher’s back is turned” without getting caught “because there’s no smell, there’s only vapor.”

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Bilger said about the Senate legislation. “But I think they need some of the same regulations traditional cigarettes have, where you regulate what you put in it and have more testing on it.”

Lance McNally, 39, is one of Jones’ constituents who began using e-cigarettes in December. He owns three e-cigarettes and still smokes traditional cigarettes. He wants to transition fully to vaporizers because “there’s no stench.”

While McNally only uses tobacco-flavored e-cigarette liquid, he said his wife goes for more unusual flavors.

“Strawberry, cheesecake – those are the two main ones,” he said.

McNally said he’s not worried about flavors or advertisements appealing to minors because “I’m not seeing an inundation of marketing.” E-cigarette legislation is unnecessary because many retailers already won’t sell them to minors, he said.

“I don’t think they should be regulated like cigarettes,” McNally said. “I’m kind of a deregulation guy to begin with. I don’t see where the government needs to be wasting its energy and time and my money on another product.”

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