CEDAR RAPIDS — Gov. Terry Branstad, who made Terrace Hill and the governor’s office smoke-free the day he took office, is open to regulating electronic cigarettes in much the same way as the traditional variety.
Iowa law prohibits smoking in workplaces other than on casino floors, but electronic cigarettes — e-cigarettes — are not covered by the five-year-old Iowa Smoke-free Air Act.
Branstad wouldn’t commit to any specific regulation of e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated products that heat liquid nicotine derived from tobacco plants into a vapor that the user inhales. During a visit to Timberline Manufacturing in Marion Tuesday, Branstad said he is “absolutely interested” in looking at proposals by Attorney General Tom Miller to regulate e-cigarettes.
Last week, Miller called on state lawmakers to ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors, add e-cigarettes to products covered by the state’s Smoke-free Air Act and tax them more than the standard state sales tax rate.
In addition to looking at Miller’s proposal, Branstad wants to look at what other states have done before deciding the appropriate course of action.
“My wife and I have been strong supporters of smoke-free workplaces,” Branstad said. “We think this is an important part of our goal to the healthiest state.”
He compared e-cigarettes to synthetic drugs created to circumvent state and federal drug laws.
“They just keep coming up with different things just like we have to deal with all these synthetic drugs,” Branstad said.
According to Miller, Iowa’s Smoke-free Air Act does not address the new technology. He said officials in Arkansas, New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah have included e-cigarettes in their indoor smoking bans and Minnesota changed its definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes and subject them to the tobacco taxes.
He called on the Legislature to define e-cigarettes and recommended they be subject to the state cigarette tax, which is $1.36 on a pack of 20 traditional cigarettes.
Miller didn’t have Iowa numbers, but in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he said sales of e-cigarettes, which doubled every year since 2008, now are accelerating even faster and are projected to reach $1.7 billion.
At the same time, the cost has fallen, making them more affordable and more attractive to young people.