AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort to place the same restrictions on e-cigarettes that exist for tobacco cigarettes in Maine cleared the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on a 6-5, party-line vote Friday.

With Democrats supporting the bill, LD 1108, and Republicans opposing it, the measure’s prospects of winning passage from the full Legislature appear questionable.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that use a small heating element to vaporize liquid nicotine, which is inhaled by the user.

Supporters of the bill, which prohibits so-called “vaping” in public places where smoking is banned, including bars and restaurants, said the dangers of the exhaled second-hand fumes from those who use e-cigarettes are not fully known. They also argued vaping mimics the behavior of smoking a tobacco cigarette and allowing it where cigarettes are banned sends the wrong message to youth about the use of tobacco and alternative nicotine delivery devices.

In an alternative proposal, opponents of banning vaping in the same places as smoking did vote to ban the practice in schools, daycare centers and hospitals.

“I guess I kind of look at this as both a local control and a private property issue,” said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the committee’s Senate chairman. “I haven’t seen the burden of proof on the harms of second-hand effects of this, sufficient for me to think that a complete ban on these products in areas where traditionally cigarettes are banned would be appropriate.”

But those supporting the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the House majority leader, said they would rather be safe than sorry.

McCabe said the dangers of smoking tobacco cigarettes were once relatively unknown as well.

“It’s interesting when you look at what some of these products contain,” McCabe said. “I have a 6- and a 9-year-old and it’s pretty easy for me, if I can keep them away from this, while we are still waiting for the science, I’m much more comfortable with that.”

McCabe said if it turns out the second-hand vapors from e-cigarettes are harmless, then the law could be repealed.

Other supporters of the bill, including a representative from the American Cancer Society, said studies have shown the vapor from e-cigarettes does contain several substances known to cause cancer.

Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, who is also a medical doctor, said removing cigarettes and the related dangers from public spaces in Maine was a long-fought battle. Allowing something that looks very much like smoking seemed to be sending the wrong message, she said.

Hymanson said using an e-cigarette “mimics the personal experience and the public performance of smoking.”

“Everything about it is like the experience of smoking and bringing that back into the public realm, I think is a big mistake,” Hymanson said. “For children to see people putting things in their mouths and the whole ritual of the smoking thing.”

The bill goes next to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.