Iowa Democrats fail in attempt to legally define e-cigarettes as tobacco


By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES, Iowa — Things got testy in the commerce committee as members of the Iowa House of Representatives discussed an amendment to a bill regulating e-cigarettes.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, would have defined e-cigarettes as tobacco products, even though the devices contain no tobacco.

The bill before the committee during its Monday meeting would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, as well as the possession of the devices by those under age 18. Currently, the only state regulation of e-cigarettes is an executive order by Gov. Terry Branstad prohibiting state employees from using the devices on state property.

The language of the amendment introduced by Hall, the committee’s ranking member, echoed the proposal put forward by public health advocacy groups at last week’s subcommittee hearing on the bill.

When the groups put forward their proposal to define tobacco-free e-cigarettes as tobacco products, they stressed that doing so would help maintain the anti-smoking “social norms” that have developed in recent decades.

Hall didn’t cite social norms when explaining his amendment to the committee. Instead he contended the bill didn’t adequately address the issue of licensing e-cigarette sellers.

Under current Iowa law, sellers of tobacco products are licensed by the municipality in which they operate. Redefining e-cigarettes, Hall said, would improve the bill by including them in the already existing licensing structure.

He also stressed that his amendment would exempt redefined e-cigarettes from the state’s tobacco taxes.

Speaking in opposition, Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said the only reason for the redefinition would be to create “the possibility of throwing [e-cigarettes] under some kind of smoke-free air act or tax scheme down the road.”

“Only by legislative creation can we actually turn something into something that it’s not, and that’s exactly what this amendment does,” Baltimore told the committee. “This amendment would attempt to turn simulated smoking into smoking and turn nicotine into tobacco.”

Baltimore went on to describe the amendment as “worthless.”

TOBACCO REMAINS TOBACCO: An attempt by Democrats to redefine tobacco-free e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” failed.

Committee Democrats objected to Baltimore’s use of the word worthless. Hall accused him of being “condescending.”

After a few sharp exchanges between Baltimore and committee Democrats, the amendment was voted on, and broke down almost exactly along party lines. All the Republicans on the committee voted against the amendment. One Democrat, Rep. Joe Riding of Altoona, joined them.

The amendment failed 9-14.

The bill itself passed 22-1.

All the Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill. The sole vote against it came from Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Vinton.

Pettengill told Iowa Watchdog she voted against the bill for two reasons.

The first was philosophical.

“I’m against regulation,” she said, citing her belief in limited government.

The second was practical.

“When a bill passes unanimously, people pay less attention to it,” she explained. “If there’s a no vote, it lets people know there’s more work to be done.”

Asked what she thought needed improving in the bill, Pettengill singled out the licensing of e-cigarette sellers. She felt the bill needed to be changed so that a business that sells an e-cigarette to a minor faces penalties, just as a business that sells tobacco products does.

According to the bill, only the individual who sells the device faces a penalty.

“We need to make that more fair,” Pettengill said.

She said she’s confident the bill will be improved when it comes to the House floor.

Contact Paul Brennan at

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