Vito Barbieri

Vito Barbieri

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Meanwhile, the House has been locked in a debate on HB 538, the bill to regulate vaping and e-cigarettes the same as tobacco in Idaho. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who owns a vape shop, declared a conflict of interest under House rules, then argued strenuously against the bill – saying vaping isn’t dangerous like smoking, including for youth.

“I get a little emotional here, because it’s difficult to feign this passion when one’s own ox is being prepared for goring,” Barbieri told the House. “With respect to parity with cigarettes: Why? … Vaping is an excellent tobacco reduction device. Vaping is hands-down the best alternative to smoking and has been proven extremely effective as a tobacco harm reduction tool.”

He said teens “are turning away from smoking. … Yes, they’ve turned to vaping. But as I’ve said before, the harm is in burning the tobacco. … Most of the nicotine, by the way, in vape products is derived from tomato plants, not tobacco.”

“I have a vape store,” Barbieri said. “From the very beginning, I have had adults coming into the store saying I want to quit, explain this to me, show me how this works. They come back and say things like, ‘Now at work the people I used to smoke with stink, their clothes and everything. … I come home and my wife is cooking in the kitchen and for the first time I’m able to smell what she’s cooking.’ The benefits are obvious to those who have quit smoking. They’re not going back.”

Barbieri decried “the deliberate confusion about this smoking device,” and said, “I get it, vaping looks like smoking so there’s a good reason there, and nicotine is addictive, but it’s not harmful in and of itself.”

Other House members disagreed and said Idaho youth are becoming addicted to nicotine because they’re taking to vaping in such large numbers.

“I’m going to err on the side of our kiddos,” said Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome. “One in four Idaho children use a vape product regularly. I think this is the first step in the direction of protecting our families and protecting our children, and I’m asking you to support this piece of legislation today.”

Other members decried the bill as over-regulation and said it will open the door to taxing vaping products. Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, said when Minnesota imposed regulations like these in hopes of reducing youth vaping, it actually had the opposite effect, so she urge the House to reject the bill.

Bizarrely, in the middle of the debate, it was time for 1st District Congressman Russ Fulcher to address the House, and Speaker Scott Bedke said he’d interrupt the debate and set the House at ease for Fulcher’s address, because the congressman was on a tight time schedule. Fulcher is now giving the same speech he delivered in the Senate.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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