Lawmakers gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill that would raise the legal age to purchase vapor products and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 19 years old.
The bill (LB149) from Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island originally banned anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing devices that deliver nicotine, tobacco or tobacco products in the form of vapor, fogs or mists.
It also prohibited stores from selling vapor products to those under 21, required them to obtain a license and established penalties for selling them to people under the legal age.
Quick said he prioritized the bill this year on behalf of school districts across the state to help reduce the number of teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine through use of vapor products while still in high school.
But several senators, including Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, said they believed Nebraskans 18 years old and up who can purchase traditional cigarettes and pornography, as well as join the military, should be able to make a personal decision whether or not to use vapor products.
The General Affairs Committee advanced an amended version of the bill to the floor setting the legal age to purchase vapor products at 19, which Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the committee chairman, said was the only way the bill could get enough votes to advance to full debate.
"I'm generally of the opinion we should not take it upon ourselves to curtail behavior we think is unwise or unhealthy to the effect it only hurts the user," Briese said, adding a majority of the committee agreed.
Quick said the amendment maintained the "age separation" he sought to impose in order to stem the use of vapor products by high school students, but he later backed a floor amendment from Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson that once again raised the legal age to purchase vapor products to 21.
Committee members who agreed to the amended version, including Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, cried foul.
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"This came out a certain way because there was agreement between the introducer and many members on the committee," Wayne said.
He later asked whether the goal was to remove vaping devices from Nebraska schools or to raise the legal age to purchase and use them to 21. If the latter was the goal, Wayne added, the age would remain at 18 for "at least another year."
Friesen's amendment was later defeated.
Another amendment, this one offered by Wayne to remove vapor products from being banned under the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act and "grandfather in" current 18-year-olds who can now legally purchase those products so they would not automatically be criminalized if the legal age was raised to 19, also failed.
Several lawmakers voiced skepticism that raising the age to 19 would prevent the use of vapor products by school-aged Nebraskans.
"We're a free society and we're all addicted to something," Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said.
Still, the committee's version of LB149 advanced to the second round of consideration on a 40-0 vote.
LB149 also would raise the age to buy regular cigarettes, cigars and tobacco products to 19.